King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski — chairman of the committee that has been handling the funding request — announced a proposal to put the issue on the ballot as an advisory vote during the Feb. 12, 2019, special election.
King County voters may have a chance to weigh in on the Mariners’ request for $180 million in public funds for Safeco Field.
The Metropolitan King County Council has been debating the team’s request over the past month and may vote on the plan as soon as Wednesday.
But late Thursday, Councilmember Rod Dembowski — chairman of the committee that has been handling the funding request — announced a proposal to put the issue on the ballot as an advisory vote during the Feb. 12, 2019, special election.
Dembowski also formally announced his opposition to the funding plan, as has been suspected based on his criticism of the request during public meetings. At least three other members of the nine-member council are also on record opposing the Mariners’ request, while two support it and three are undecided.
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Critics of the Mariners funding request have said the team can afford to fund its own fixes at Safeco Field and that the money would be better spent on affordable housing.
“It’s clear to me that this profitable private organization does not need any additional public funding,” Dembowski said. He added: “The public deserves to weigh in on how we prioritize this funding.”
Even if the issue goes on the ballot and is rejected by voters, that wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the plan. In 1995, King County voters rejected the original Safeco Field funding plan, but the state Legislature ultimately approved taxes for the stadium anyway. Public funds financed $372 million of the ballpark’s $517 million cost.
In this case, the ballot measure would be an advisory vote; those are nonbinding.
The Mariners’ lease at Safeco expires at the end of this year. In May, the team and the Public Facilities District that oversees the stadium agreed to a 25-year lease contingent on the $180 million in public funds being approved.
The Mariners say the team needs the funds for basic fixes at the stadium, which is 19 years old. The team has not threatened to leave the city and said if the funding is rejected, it would sign a short-term lease to stay at Safeco next year, and go back to the drawing board to figure out a long-term solution.
A Mariners spokeswoman said late Thursday the team was just learning of the ballot measure proposal and won’t be able to comment until team officials had a chance to review the plan.