With its 92-year-old football stadium starting to crumble, the University of Washington began contemplating a renovation half a dozen years ago. One financing idea — getting $150 million from Seattle-area taxpayers — ran afoul of state Representative Ross Hunter. The state was reducing college funding, and tuition was surging.
“We were cutting billions of dollars out of our budget, and we are going to build a stadium. Really?” says Hunter, 51, a Democrat from Medina who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “I was OK with saying ‘No.’”
That didn’t prevent taxpayers in Seattle and the rest of the U.S. from subsidizing the $250 million project anyway. Tax breaks on municipal bonds issued for the stadium, donations for construction and increased contributions tied to ticket purchases will cost the U.S. Treasury $154 million over 30 years, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. Without the exemptions, Athletic Director Scott Woodward says, he couldn’t have financed the overhaul.
As the school’s football team prepares for a bowl game Dec. 22 in Las Vegas, the field at Husky Stadium is dotted with earth movers and dump trucks. The construction shows how even some of the most soundly run college football programs benefit from indirect tax subsidies totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition to the deductions that helped fund this project, sports departments are exempt from taxes on ticket, television and other income generated by their stadiums.