Washington Public Stadium Authority, Referendum 48 (June 1997)

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The Washington Public Stadium Authority Bill, also known as Referendum 48, was on the June 17, 1997 ballot in Washington as a legislatively-referred state statute, where it was approved. The measure authorized a public stadium authority to build and operate a football and soccer stadium financed by tax revenues and private contributions, specifically the Qwest Field for the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle.[1]

Election results

Washington Referendum 48 (1997)
Approveda Yes 820,364 51.15%

Election results via: Washington Secretary of State

Text of measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[1]

Shall a public stadium authority be authorized to build and operate a football/soccer stadium and exhibition center financed by tax revenues and private contributions?[2]


Two former governors, Republican Dan Evans and Democrat Booth Gardner, advocated in favor of the measure. Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen strongly supported the measure and lobbied the state legislature for public funding for the stadium project. Allen stated that the plan was necessary to keep the professional football team in Seattle. Thirteen days after the election, Allen bought the Seattle Seahawks.[3][4]


Evans and Gardner presented a list of arguments in favor of the measure:[5]

  • Casting a vote against the referendum will cause a continuation of certain property and sales taxes to be spent on the Kingdome, the older stadium that critics claim is falling apart. Also, the money spent on operating Kingdome could be spent on other services in King County, Washington.
  • Casting a vote against the referendum will cause the Seattle Seahawks to leave the state and their economic benefits.
  • A new stadium with covered seats and more than twenty times the seating for the disabled.
  • A new stadium that could be utilized in an Olympics, World Cup or Superbowl.


Paul Allen through his organization Our Team Works, reported spending $4.7 million in the five weeks prior to the election. Allen has also promised to reimburse the state for the estimated $4.2 million cost of the special election.[6]


State Representative Tim Sheldon of the House’s Trade and Economic Development Committee was opposed to the measure. Activist Ralph Nader visited Seattle to campaign against the stadium plan.[6]


Seahawks Stadium

Sheldon presented a list of arguments in opposition to the measure:[7]

  • The measure uses public money for private purposes, thus violating Section 5 Article VII of the Washington Constitution. He states, “Our Washington Constitution is too valuable a document to be twisted and exploited for professional sports”.
  • The measure violates the provision that all counties will be taxed equally.
  • The measure creates an expensive special election to benefit one person, Paul Allen, who lobbied $1.7 million in the state legislature.
  • Allen will receive tax subsidies for purchasing the professional football team.
  • Sheldon concludes that this deal is “Robin Hood in reverse”.

Criticizing Allen, political scientist Thad Beyle of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said, “I just don't recall ever seeing someone pick up a total tab for an election. It bumps up against questions about just how far you can let democracy go. Do you then start letting some of the oil companies foot the bill for some referenda on cutting the gas tax?”[8]


Anti-stadium groups spent $174,000 during the campaign.[6]

See also

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