Opinion

Racetrack’s case hasn’t been made yet

Apparently it was easier to express unflagging support for building a speedway in South Kitsap when that support was stated in a confidential Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council document entitled “From the Green Flag to the Checkered Flag – We’ll Bring the Project Home.”

KREDC submitted the “Green Flag” report to Great Western Sports, Inc., in an effort to persuade the NASCAR folks to select Kitsap county as the site for their new speedway.

Eventually, GWS did pick Kitsap – after first unsuccessfully courting the people of Snohomish county.

Now that the Legislature is in session, there appears to be no one willing to step forward and sponsor the necessary legislation.

State Sen. Phil Rockefeller (who was then in the house of representatives) pledged in a letter included in the “Green Flag” report “to do all I can to assist,” but by December 2005 he had a change of heart. 

He now calls the project “corporate welfare” and opposes it. 

Sen. Tim Sheldon also submitted a letter for that “Green Flag” document, indicating that the “Kitsap/Mason team is ready and willing to provide all the information and political support you may desire.” 

Sheldon reportedly does not support using public funds to build the speedway, but may support public funding of necessary infrastructure improvements. As of this writing, he has yet to propose a bill in the Legislature that could get the ball rolling.

Were they really surprised to learn that GWS expected the government to pick up a big share of the construction costs? If so, then the NASCAR folks have no one to blame but themselves for the lack of political support.

It isn’t surprising that the few politicians from other areas who have spoken up would have misgivings about providing state funding for the project, but GWS’s failure to get the support of legislators from Kitsap and Mason counties is surprising.

It also isn’t surprising that people like Rockefeller and Sheldon would have some misgivings about the GWS proposal.

Economic development projects are usually supported by government when those projects promise two things — a significant number of new jobs and a real boost to the government’s revenues.

The proposal from GWS promises neither one.

Instead of increasing the local tax base, GWS proposes that the speedway be exempt from the property tax by virtue of being owned by a public agency and leased to GWS. 

They also want to be exempt from the leasehold excise tax which would ordinarily be paid by the lessee of that publicly owned speedway.

While the presence of the speedway would surely increase spending and thereby increase sales taxes collected by state and local governments, most of that revenue increase would be used to pay the cost of building the speedway.

State and local governments would probably see an increase in their revenues above what would have been collected without the spending by out-of-state fans, but the impact is substantially muted by earmarking much of that increase to pay for the track.

People in Kitsap and Mason counties would naturally like to see an improvement in the local job market, but the speedway is not expected to lead to the creation of many jobs in this area.

Unless our area becomes a tourist destination site that can support many more businesses that provide food, lodging and recreation for tourists, most of the NASCAR fans will be spending their time and money in King and Pierce counties, not Kitsap and Mason.

It’s apparently true that we would have to put up with the traffic problems while gaining few of the economic benefits, since the fans would need to come from out of the area to the track and then go back soon after the races end.

So what are the good reasons for supporting this speedway proposal?

Several local chambers of commerce have publicly stated their support, but they have said little about the economic benefits they expect. 

Have they signed confidentiality agreements, too?  Or do they simply not know of any great economic benefit to Kitsap and Mason counties that would occur as a result of having thousands of fans go to and from the track during a couple of weeks each year?

It’s easy to imagine the drawbacks. We’ve all sat in rush-hour traffic, so it isn’t hard to picture the effect of having a new “rush hour” for several days each summer.

Aside from giving residents near the speedway an opportunity to rehearse their disaster preparedness plans by staying off the roads for three or four days at a stretch, what benefit do we gain?

If there are people who can state the upside of this issue, they need to get out from behind the scenes and make their ideas known.

This speedway proposal may spark desirable economic development in Kitsap and Mason counties, but the case hasn’t been made yet.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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