Politics & Government

Tacoma Dome vendors could get tax break under proposed legislation

The crowd watches as wrestlers compete in Mat Classic XXXI at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Vendors at the Dome might be in for a tax break.
The crowd watches as wrestlers compete in Mat Classic XXXI at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Vendors at the Dome might be in for a tax break. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

It’s a bill in the Washington state Legislature that doubles as a pop quiz.

Which arena has more than 2,000 seats, is on city-owned land and is owned by a city with a population over 200,000 but in a county with a population less than 1.5 million?

If you answered the Tacoma Dome, you get a gold star.

A bill that may be headed for a Senate vote would resurrect a tax break for the Dome’s vendors that several stadiums, arenas and amphitheaters around the state already enjoy.

The bill does not refer to the Dome, but the detailed description is designed to comply with the legal requirement that a tax exemption be narrowly tailored. The measure applies only to the Dome.

Public property is exempt from property taxes, but private firms are required to pay a state leasehold excise tax for its use. The tax rate is 12.8 percent of the rental amount.

Companies that contract to provide services at the city-owned Dome, which opened in 1983, did not pay the tax for decades, but that all changed in 2016 due to the state, said the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma.

Darneille said an audit by the state Department of Revenue on tax exemptions led to a new interpretation of state law.

“I’m asking for a return to a policy we had for over 30 years,” she said.

There’s nothing in state law that says the Dome is covered by the tax, but the Department of Revenue decided there is no specific law that says the venue is exempt, said Randy Lewis, the city of Tacoma’s government relations officer.

Beverly Crichfield, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said the agency couldn’t disclose information about the matter, citing a state law on “confidential” taxpayer information.

“We cannot disclose whether an audit was or was not done. This is also protected information,” she said in an email.

Venues that are exempt from the tax include the stadiums for the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks, the ShoWare Center in Kent and the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.

The city of Tacoma tried in 2017 and 2018 to get an exemption in state law for the Dome, but those bills lumped the Dome in with KeyArena in Seattle and did not pass.

The tax is being paid at the Dome by Aramark, which sells food and beverages; Staff Pro, which provides security for events and around the clock; and Ticketmaster, which runs the box office, according to city officials.

If this year’s bill becomes law, the state would not collect about $22,000 in tax revenue a year. Pierce County and the city of Tacoma would lose $19,600 annually, according to a report by nonpartisan legislative staff.

The Senate Ways & Means Committee approved Darneille’s bill Monday night. If it makes it to the Senate floor and is approved, the bill would move to the House.

“All we’re asking is to give us our own exemption so we can again be on a level playing field with all of our competitors across the state,” said Kim Bedier, the city of Tacoma’s director of venues and events. “It’s an issue of fairness to us.”