Funding has become major sticking point

Updated: July 25, 2005, 12:04 AM ET
Associated Press

BREMERTON, Wash. -- International Speedway Corp. wants state money to help build a proposed $250 million racetrack in Kitsap County. State Treasurer Mike Murphy is opposed.

"If one were to list the various priorities that the state should be funding, that one would not make the first page for me," Murphy said.

"They are wanting a handout," he told the Kitsap Sun newspaper for Sunday editions. "We have more important things to be spending money on. The budgetary drain on the state for that type of facility basically says we won't be doing something else, because there are a limited amount of dollars."

The state had a $1.6 billion budget deficit this year, a shortfall that was covered through about $500 million in new taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and inheritances. The Legislature will likely face another shortfall when it addresses the budget for 2007.

Florida-based ISC has hired a veteran team of attorneys and lobbyists to help win over legislators. Among the team are Jay Reich, a bond attorney involved in the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks stadium deals, and Gogerty Stark Marriott, a political strategy firm that helped win support for those projects.

"It's important that we have good counsel as we move through the process," said Grant Lynch, ISC vice president. "We are not from here. And we have to understand the community we're operating in."

It appears ISC wants the state to issue general obligation bonds that would be paid off by revenues the track is expected to generate statewide. ISC would contribute tens of millions of dollars in private funds.

The track would be owned by a local public facilities district, with ISC holding a long-term lease to operate and maintain it.

Murphy said ISC track funding would be similar to that arranged for the Seahawks stadium. State taxpayers will pay $608 million over 25 years to repay the principal and interest for the football stadium, while team owner Paul Allen contributed about $160 million, he said.

Public financing for an ISC track is also raising concerns among some local lawmakers.

"I'm not going to dump public money into building a sports facility for another profit-making organization," said state Rep. Bill Eickmeyer, D-Belfair. "If they want to locate and build a NASCAR track, and they want to meet all the requirements established by law in the county, fine.

"I am not opposing NASCAR. I'm not saying I am going to get in their way. It's just that I am not going give them a freebie, a big one at taxpayers' expense," he said.

Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, says she's trying to keep an open mind.

"But if it's anything close to proposals for the Seattle stadiums, I probably will not support it," she said. "I don't want to repeat the mistakes made on those particular issues."

Murphy said it's unlikely ISC officials will have enough time during the upcoming 60-day session to broker enough support. Legislation to authorize selling general obligation bonds for the project would require either 60 percent approval in both chambers of the Legislature or a statewide referendum in the fall.

Lynch contends the ISC proposal will not require any new taxes.

"Ours stands on its own. It carries its own water," Lynch said.

Murphy counters that public money used for the track will be taken away from other public undertakings such as roads, schools and public safety projects.

He says taking public money from other projects "is the same as a new tax, because it reduces part of the taxing authority."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press