Army growing to block UW's stadium money grab

WHAT BEGAN WITH a trio of concerned Washington State alums raising alarms about taxpayer financing for a Husky Stadium renovation has turned into a vocal group of thousands of concerned taxpayers that is growing every day.

Glenn Osterhout was one of the three original Cougars upset about the University of Washington trying to funnel $150 million of tax money toward a "lavish" renovation of Husky Stadium.

At a total cost of more than $300 million, the UW's plans would make a remodeled Husky Stadium the most expensive college stadium of all time.

The tax on hotels, motels, rental cars and restaurants in King County was originally levied to pay for Safeco and Qwest fields. Now as those debts are about to be retired, several groups, including UW, are trying to obtain the money generated by the tax.

Osterhout, Mike Bernard and Arne Hedeen originally got together to stop what Osterhout calls a UW "money grab."

Osterhout notes the recently completed phases I and II to Martin Stadium in Pullman, which includes improvements to restrooms, concessions and concourses, were paid for by students and those who buy tickets to watch the football games. Not a dime from state coffers was used.

"Most stadiums, like ours and Oregon's, Oregon State's and Stanford's, are paid for by private donations," Osterhout said. "Given the state of the economy and with the state government facing a $3.2 billion deficit, there are plenty of other places where that money is needed. It's just not the best use for those funds ."

Although those who advocate giving the money to UW cite safety concerns at Husky Stadium, Osterhout said that UW already has enough money to fix any potential hazards in addition to other improvements.

"We don't think any of the money should go to Husky Stadium," Osterhout, a 1983 graduate who served as the student body vice- president in 1982. "They (UW) just raised billions of dollars and have plenty of money to make those improvements. If the safety issues were that severe why did the UW not use part of the $2.68 billion they just raised to make the repairs?"

Osterhout, a financial planner and money manager who runs his own business in Bellevue, notes that phase III at Martin Stadium, which includes 2,200 premium seats, is being completely financed through private donations.

"It's just not fair," Osterhout said. "We're going to foot the bill for Martin Stadium entirely on our own through students, ticket holders, alumni and friends. We compete directly with them. It's not right to favor one Pac-10 university over another."

A state task force has been formed in Olympia to look at the current tax revenues that pay for public stadiums and alternatives for the money, which include lifting the tax. Osterhout will testify before the committee and no decision is expected until well after the governor's election.

"UW has hired a lobbyist and is already running radio ads," Osterhout said. "Ours is a completely volunteer effort that is not connected to WSU. This is a group of Cougar alumni and friends who disagree that fixing Husky Stadium would be an appropriate use of the taxes."

Osterhout said that although the tax is collected in King County, anyone who uses hotels, motels or restaurants are the ones who are paying the tax.

Osterhout and his group wants to make sure that the public is informed before any decision is made about how to use the money.

"There's a pot of money and UW wants to grab it and have it go to Husky Stadium," Osterhout said. "That sets a precedent and if that happens some of the money should go to WSU, two schools that directly compete against each other. "

Neither gubernatorial candidate has publicly commented on UW's proposal and Osterhout doesn't expect either to say anything until after the election.

"Our group is a growing contingent and as more people become educated about it they are really going to get hot about it," Osterhout said. "This is going to be a huge issue in the state. We have to draw the line. Clearly this would give them a competitive advantage."

He encourages WSU alums to join the growing list of more than 800 Cougars who have signed on to the group's Facebook account to help fight the UW's proposed money grab. To join the Facebook brigade, click to
http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=33790377754

In addition, Osterhout urges interested citizens to contact their representatives to make their opinion known. If you don't know who your representatives are, find out at
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Default.aspx.

Some key officials to contact are:
* Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, co-chairs the committee and can be reached at hunter.ross@leg.wa.gov. The other co-chair, Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, is at eide.tracey@leg.wa.gov.
* Sen. Margarita Prentice D-Renton at prentice.margarita@leg.wa.gov
* Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, at chopp.frank@leg.wa.gov
* Governor Christine Gregoire at http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/default.asp.
* GOP candidate Dino Rossi at http://www.telldino.com/.


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