The Pierce County Council has voted unanimously to end a prohibition on lobbying by the public facilities district for Tacoma’s convention center.
If other jurisdictions agree, the change would allow the district to lobby the Legislature to extend a major source of funding for the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. That source is a 0.033 percent cut of the state sales tax collected in Tacoma, Lakewood, University Place, Fife and unincorporated Pierce County.
All five jurisdictions must approve any changes to the district’s charter.
That 20-year tax rebate for the center’s debt service expires Jan. 1, 2019. The rebate averages about $3 million annually.
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The Tacoma facilities district is the only one among 27 in the state that has a ban on lobbying.
At an in-district meeting on Fox Island, the council Tuesday night eliminated language in the district’s charter that reads: “No part of the activities of the District shall be the carrying on of propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation.”
The council had wrestled for several weeks over whether, and how much, to limit the district’s ability to lobby.
A council committee, at the recommendation of Councilman Stan Flemming, R-Gig Harbor, voted Oct. 6 to allow lobbying, but only for the purpose of extending the sales tax rebate.
Council Chairman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, had voiced concerns that unrestricted lobbying could result in requests for more money, such as funding from the county.
To address concerns of some council members, Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, proposed an addition Tuesday night, asking the district to provide reports on its lobbying as requested by the five member jurisdictions. Ladenburg is also the district’s board president.
The council unanimously approved Ladenburg’s amendment. The council added the request to a section in the resolution that will not require approval by the other four jurisdictions.
The facilities district wants no restrictions placed on lobbying. That way, it can join the Association of Washington State Public Facilities Districts, which has its own lobbyist.
The council retained another section in the district’s charter barring participation in political campaigns, which state law already prohibits.
Councilman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, said the final measure “struck a successful balance.”
Local city councils must still agree on the final changes.
The Tacoma City Council voted to remove both sections on lobbying and campaigning in July, followed by the Lakewood City Council in August. The Fife City Council voted two weeks ago to remove the lobbying portion but kept the second section, which is what the County Council did Tuesday night. The University Place City Council is scheduled to vote on Fife’s revision Monday.
The facilities district was formed in 1999. That’s when the district’s charter — including the ban on lobbying — was adopted.
The convention center opened in 2004 and was built at a cost of more than $80 million, including land and parking.
The city of Tacoma owes $112 million for the convention center, including principal and interest, according to city spokeswoman Maria Lee. There have been multiple refinances.
The city has budgeted $895,000 in its 2013-14 budget for the convention center, and proposes $4.2 million for the center in its 2015-16 budget.
The state’s 27 facilities districts share the capability of drawing upon the state sales tax rebate.
Kim Bedier, director of public assembly facilities for the city of Tacoma, has said she doesn’t know what the districts might want to ask of state lawmakers beyond extending the sales tax rebate and supporting the work of the districts statewide.
Ladenburg also has said she didn’t know any other reason for lobbying than extending the sales tax. But without lifting the restriction, she said, Tacoma’s district wouldn’t be able to join the state association.
Staff writer Kate Martin contributed to this report.