The absence of two Senators during a key budget committee hearing Friday has cast doubt on the future of a bill to extend temporary taxes on hotel stays, restaurants and car rentals to help fund economic projects in King County.
King County officials were expecting the bill to move out of committee, allowing action by the full Senate.
Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, left the afternoon hearing without public explanation. A call to his cell phone Friday afternoon was not returned. Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, also left the hearing without public explanation. A call to his cell phone was also not returned.
Senate Democratic caucus spokesman Jeff Reading said Friday that leadership didn't know where Hatfield or Tom went.
"We had expected it to move out of committee," said Sung Yang, director of government relations for King County Executive Dow Constantine, on Saturday. "We were disappointed that the bill did not move out of committee."
The measure now appears dead, failing to clear a procedural deadline.
But Yang remained optimistic. "It's a long legislative session. We have a ways to go, and we'll continue to work with legislators to see the adoption of this bill," he said. "Nothing is dead until the session is over."
The bill would have extended temporary taxes on hotel stays, restaurants and car rentals to help fund an expansion of the Washington State Convention Center and several other economic development projects.
The bill had been a priority for Constantine and was pitched as a way to create jobs in a tough economy.
Revenue from the taxes, first created in 1995, has been paying off the construction of the Kingdome, Safeco Field and Qwest Field. The debt on Safeco Field - where the Seattle Mariners play - is expected to be paid within the year.
The bill, approved 55-42 in the House earlier this month, extends the 0.5 percent restaurant tax until 2015. It extends indefinitely a 2 percent car rental tax to raise revenue for revitalization projects in Seattle's Pioneer Square-International District and the convention center expansion.
The expansion would create several thousand new jobs - much-needed employment growth as the state struggles economically, Constantine said earlier this week before a packed committee room.
Constantine estimated that the projects would attract an additional 130,000 people per year to Seattle and King County, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars more in tax revenues. That money could go toward arts and cultural programs, as well as the construction of housing for hospitality and service workers, supporters have said.
However, a recent survey of 405 Seattle voters by independent pollster Stuart Elway showed that 57 percent were against continuing the taxes, as proposed in the bill.
Opponents have said that lawmakers should keep their promise of ending the taxes once the stadiums are debt-free.
The Kingdome and Qwest Field - the former and current homes of the Seattle Seahawks - have not been paid off, Yang said.