Last week, a group of legislators led by Rep. Katrina Asay (R, 30th) and Senator Margarita Prentice (D, 11th), dropped several bills on behalf of Federal Way, all potentially damaging to Sound Transit and expansion of light rail.
The bills should end any real discussion of whether certain Federal Way politicians actually want or support light rail. None of them address the problem of low sales tax revenue in South King County. None of them address the low density and lack of zoning for transit oriented development where Sound Transit plans to build. None of them appear to have any positive impact on building rail at all – they seem to be simply retaliatory. They are all asinine, making Sound Transit go to ballot separately with capital and operations costs, letting cities pull out of the Sound Transit district without a public vote, or reorganizing Sound Transit with only five directly elected board members. That last would open up Sound Transit to direct expenditures during an election – a perfect opportunity for Kemper Freeman to buy a board. Another would help nickel and dime Sound Transit by charging them, rather than the auditor’s office, for Tim Eyman’s new performance audits. The auditor’s office would still pay for all the other audits they perform – this would just charge Sound Transit.
Any of these bills, if passed, would hurt Sound Transit’s ability to connect light rail to Everett, Redmond and Pierce County, specifically hurting Federal Way mayor Skip Priest’s stated goal of getting more light rail. None of these bills help solve the real problem: Federal Way was and continues to be designed to be low density and unwalkable, making higher fuel prices take a lot more out of residents’ pockets. Places with more density are seeing less of a drop in sales tax revenue, probably because people who can walk to the store have more money to spend after their basic needs.
The real impact of these bills, assuming transit advocates can kill them, was to let us know who puts politics over good planning. While Senator Eide (D, 30th) declined to sponsor the Senate bills, recognizing that they have no place in the discussion of how to get light rail to her district, Prentice sponsored every piece of legislation – her district already has Link and Sounder service and the fantastic Tukwila/International Blvd station, so hurting Sound Transit now has no impact on her constituents.
In a letter sent to Sound Transit by all three 30th legislators – Senator Eide and Representatives Asay and Mark Miloscia (D), they lauded Sound Transit’s commitment to an alternatives analysis to identify cost savings to get light rail to Federal Way sooner. At the end of the letter, they say: “We hope more information, strategies, and ideas will follow close behind. For our part, we stand willing and ready to help with these practical solutions.”
The alternatives analysis referenced in their letter is not yet complete. So while Senator Eide clearly meant this in earnest, Rep. Asay must feel that attack bills are “practical solutions.”
What’s especially interesting about Mayor Priest’s reaction here is how different it is from the reactions of others in the same position. According to a source at Sound Transit, they’re currently projecting that instead of 2023, with the current tax revenue coming in, Federal Way could have light rail in 2034. That’s actually quite similar to how economic impacts in the late 90s and early 2000s brought University Link, now under construction, from a potential 2006 opening of Brooklyn Station to only Husky Stadium by 2016. But in the same situation, Seattle didn’t attempt to sabotage Sound Transit with the kinds of public and legislative attacks Federal Way is now. Instead, they accepted financial reality – and Mayor Nickels went on to be the vanguard of Sound Transit 2, funding Brooklyn Station and far more. Perhaps Mayor Priest would be better served with that approach?
Senator Prentice and Representative Asay do their own constituents a disservice with asinine attacks on an agency that can only work with the funding it has. Given that it’s Transportation Advocacy Day, transit advocates who meet with these legislators today should point out that bills like this do nothing to get us more transit – they only serve to move the discussion farther away from real solutions.
Edit: Even if you’re not going to Olympia today, Chetan and Bruce point out that we should be contacting them anyway! Sen. Prentice’s phone number is (360) 786-7616, and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rep. Asay is at (360) 786-7830 and email@example.com. Please be respectful, but let them know this is abusive and counterproductive – Sound Transit has to spend a lot of time in Olympia defending themselves from things like this. And if I have anything to say about it, Seattle Transit Blog will be organizing and fundraising against anti-transit legislators in this year’s races. It’s a good year to be 501c4.