Democratic state Treasurer Michael Murphy, announcing he'll retire at the end of his term, on Thursday urged lawmakers to make the office nonpartisan and warned them to be wary of heavy public subsidies for public-private projects.
Murphy, a persistent critic of Seattle's now-defunct monorail expansion project, complained about a proposed NASCAR race track and said taxpayers often foot too much of the bill for big projects while the private sector owners enjoy all of the profits.
The Seahawks football stadium in Seattle, for instance, is costing nearly $600 million to pay off the public's share of the bonds, while the team pays little rent and keeps much of the profit from tickets, concessions and parking, he said in an interview.
Seahawks owner Paul Allen contributed $130 million toward construction costs.
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"My experience with public-private partnerships is that the private party gets rich and the public gets screwed," Murphy said.
The NASCAR proposal asks taxpayers to cover roughly half of the $368 million cost. Murphy said he hasn't finished his analysis of a proposal for a $500 million venue for the Seattle SuperSonics in the Seattle suburb of Renton, but figures his criticism will apply there as well.
Race track officials told lawmakers this week that their project will more than pay for itself, and the Sonics also are touting the economic benefits of their proposed project. Allen, who agreed to a statewide public vote on the Qwest Field financial package and financed the election, repeatedly defended the plan as a good investment for the whole region.
Murphy said he worries about the state's fiscal health and its reputation on Wall Street and will blow the whistle when he thinks it is necessary.
Murphy, 59, confirmed that he's retiring after his third four-year term ends in January 2009.
"I'm going to go fishing," he said. "It's been a fun ride. I'm always one who believes you go out when you're at the top of your game."
Murphy, a former seminarian and Seattle University graduate, has been the state's banker since winning his first statewide bid for office in 1996. Before that, he was Thurston County treasurer for 10 years. For 15 years after his graduation from college and Vietnam-era service in the Army, he was an aide to then-State Treasurer Robert O'Brien.
Murphy is pursuing legislation to make the office nonpartisan, as the state school superintendent's office already is.
"I haven't had a partisan issue cross my desk in the 34 years I've worked in the public treasury," he said. "It is illogical to have the race on a partisan basis if nothing in the office is partisan, and shouldn't be."