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WSU alum from Bellevue wants to muzzle Husky stadium fundraising

Washington State alum Mike Bernard is taking the long standing rivalry between the Cougars and the Huskies off the playing field and straight to the state Legislature. He is leading a trio of WSU alums in an awareness campaign to fight the University of Washington’s request for $150 million in public funding for the renovation of Husky Stadium.

The campaign was the brain child of Bernard, who works as a tax consultant in Bellevue, and fellow WSU alums, Arne Heeden and Glenn Osterhout. The campaign is in no way affiliated with Washington State University.

Bernard, a 1979 Washington State graduate, also sits on the Association of Washington Business Board of Directors. To spur momentum for the campaign, Bernard sent out a slew of e-mails last week to roughly 60 cougar contacts. The e-mail contained an explanation for why they should should oppose the UW’s proposal.

In the e-mail Bernard wrote, “College athletics – particularly in the Pac-10 – is incredibly competitive. Great facilities are necessary to stay in the game. We can’t let the UW gain an unfair advantage by pilfering millions of our state tax dollars to build an even grander monument to athletic ineptitude on Lake Washington. The state has better things to do with our money.”

Senate Bill 6848 was introduced by Sen. Margarita Prentice, (D-Renton) in January, 2008, addressing the financial aspects for the renovation of Husky stadium. The bill would allow a deferral of taxes and establishes requirements for bonds issued to finance a university stadium renovation project.

The University of Washington is asking the Legislature to continue and “re-purpose” King County restaurant, hotel and rental car tax revenues. These taxes are being used to pay the public debt portions of Safeco Field and Seahawks Stadium and which will no longer be needed when those bonds are retired. In addition, the University of Washington is requesting that sales tax on the construction portions of the Husky stadium renovation be deferred, interest free, for up to five years after the project is complete.

Norm Arkans, the executive director of Media Relations and Communications for the University of Washington, said that the university is suggesting that those taxes that are already in existence be re-purposed to help pay for the stadium. He added that the goal is to do the renovation on the UW stadium as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“Sound transit is going to build the Husky Stadium station in about a year and hundreds of trucks will be going in and out of there each day. Our hope is to get in there, get the renovation done, and get out of there. That’s the sense of urgency,” he said.

Bernard views the proposal as an unfair advantage and referred to it an inappropriate use of state money.

According to him, when the Legislature voted to pass the financing package for the Mariners’ facility back in 1995, and for Seahawks’ stadium several years later, the legislators promised that once the debt was paid off the taxes for it would go away.

“Prolonging the tax burden to people of King County residences, visitors and businesses is counter productive to what Washington is doing to stimulate the economy in these economic times,” he wrote, adding, it doesn’t take an economic rocket scientist to understand that a decrease in restaurant and hotel sales is the natural result of a prolonged tax burden.

The total renovation for the UW stadium is projected to cost $300 million, half of which would be covered by public funding if the proposal passes.

“Out of the $300 million for the renovation, we intend to raise a good chunk of that through private funding,” Arkans said. “Over the past 10 years we have raised millions of dollars for various sports faciliticies and we plan to go back and raise $150 million more.”

The stadium will have the highest pricetag to date of any new college stadium or renovation of an existing college stadium anywhere in the country.

“Not only is the price too high, but major portions of the renovation – club seats, skyboxes, loges, Suites and fancy private concessionaires restaurant facilities – are for Husky elite, and are not even arguably “public,” wrote Bernard in his email.

He highlighted other sources of funding that the UW has at its disposal. The University of Washington Foundation has an endowment of more than $2.3 billion and the school just concluded a capital campaign that raised $2.7 billion. Additionally, the university owns land in downtown Seattle that produces a large revenue system.

Contrary to Bernard’s claims, Arkans points out that the university endowment is not discretionary money and it is not available for funding the renovations on the stadium.

Bernard said over the past week, his e-mail campaign has taken on a life of its own. He received more than 70 response e-mails within the first few days of the campaign. According to Bernard, if the tax is to be continued and “re-purposed,” it should be re-purposed for the benefit of all state universities’ and colleges’ athletic venues.

Washington State University is working to raise $70 million for a stadium renovation project through private funding.

“Unlike our friends on Montlake we’re doing the job the hard way, the right way, the COUG way, with hard earned private dollars raised from COUG alums and friends.”

Lindsay Larin can be reached at llarin@reporternewspapers.com or at 425-453-4602.

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