Washington Public Stadium Authority, Referendum 48 (June 1997)

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Seahawks Stadium
Washington Referendum 48, also known as the Football/Soccer Stadium Act, was on the June 17, 1997 election ballot in Washington as a legislatively-referred state statute, where it was approved.

The question on the ballot was, "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?" The stadium in question was Qwest Field, or the Seahawks Stadium, in Seattle, Washington.

Election results

Referred Bill 48
Approveda Yes 820,364 51.1%

According to the terms of the referendum, $300 million in public money was allocated to be spent on a new $425 million stadium, exhibition hall and parking facility. The plan was for the existing Kingdome to be demolished and for the Seahawks Stadium to be erected in its stead. Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen aggressively lobbied the state legislature for public funding for the stadium because he was considering buying the Seahawks. Allen said he would move the team out of state if voters didn't approve Referendum 48.[1][2]

One reason the election was notable is that Allen paid the $4.2 million cost of holding a special election. Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the 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?"[3]


Ballot measures
in Washington State
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Political topics on the ballot

In addition to the support of Paul Allen, former Republican governor Dan Evans and former Democratic governor Booth Gardner were ardent advocates of Referendum 48. They argued that if Referendum 48 failed:

  • The Mariners and Seahawks would move their teams, possibly out of the state.
  • The Kingdome would be empty, but property taxpayers would still have to support it.[4]
  • Taxpayers would have to foot the $70 million to foot the bill to repair the roof that fell in on the Kingdome

Supporters of Referendum 48 spent about $6.3 million promoting their viewpoint.[3]


Tim Sheldon, a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the 35th District, argued in favor of a "no" vote, saying:

  • The proposal "violates our state Constitution in several ways" by using public money for private purposes, and by violating the provision that all counties be taxed equally.
  • The vote on Referendum 48 was a special election to directly benefit one person.
  • "The upcoming Referendum 48 election is the result of the most powerful lobbying effort I have ever observed during my four terms in the state Legislature. Paul Allen spent $1.7 million for political donations, pollsters, lobbyists, public relations and TV ads to convince the Legislature to put this referendum before the voters."
  • Allen "even paid for buses to transport fans to testify at committee hearings."[5]

Brian Livingston, a computer columnist, said that "Microsoft millions" were being used "to turn a state into a banana republic where election laws can be altered to suit one person's interests."[3]

See also

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