The Washington State
Convention & Trade Center
In March, Washington’s
state legislature approved a plan to fill a state budget gap by
assuming control of $65 million of a projected $86 million reserve
accumulated by Seattle’s Washington State Convention & Trade
The legislature earmarked $57 million
of the appropriation to be given to the state’s general fund, while
$8 million will be used for low-income housing. This redistribution
will not affect a planned expansion of the convention center into a
newly purchased parcel of adjacent land.
According to Don Welsh, president and
CEO of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, neither his office
nor the center knew about the diversion of funds until it was too
late. “Our lobbyist read about it at our office and watched it
surface on a government TV station,” Welsh said.
The cash reserve was built through a
15.6 percent hotel tax, of which the convention center receives
less than half. With this cushion, the center was hoping to
accelerate its debt repayment and begin putting away some money to
build its own replacement someday.
Welsh was dismayed by the news -- and
by the combative tone lawmakers took in justifying their right to
the funds. “This is the most illogical, insulting, indifferent
decision that’s been made by our state government in my five-plus
years in Seattle,” said Welsh.
Senator Margarita Prentice, chairperson
of the state’s Ways and Means Committee and a chief sponsor of the
bill, did not respond to calls seeking her comment on the
The president and general manager of
the WSCTC, John Christison, was more sanguine in his assessment of
the situation, recognizing that the state was within its legal
rights to sweep the funds.
“Was I thrilled?” Christison asked.
“No. But we’re moving on.” He noted that the convention facility is
expecting another positive year and hasn’t yet felt any pressure
from the economic downturn.
Nevertheless, Christison said, the
legislature’s appropriation of the funds “begins to raise a larger,
industrywide question: What’s the future for these [taxes]? Are
hotel taxes sacrosanct, or should they be used for other