Federal Way is firing a shot across the bow of Sound Transit with proposals in the Legislature that highlight the city’s displeasure with delays in linking up with light rail.
Sound Transit’s tax revenues from South King County have dropped by nearly a third, likely scrapping plans to bring light rail to Federal Way by 2023 as part of the $17.9 billion mass transit measure voters approved in 2008.
Milton Republican Rep. Katrina Asay calls for letting cities pull out of the regional agency when plans don’t meet estimates. There is no current mechanism for de-annexing, Sound Transit says.
Asay said she doubts the bill will even get a hearing, but Mayor Skip Priest said whether the bills advance this year isn’t the point.
“This is a long-term discussion for the city of Federal Way,” said Priest, a former Republican member of the House. “It’s the city of Federal Way this year that is not getting a thoughtful approach by Sound Transit. It may be some other city next year.”
Nothing lawmakers propose doing would directly bring more trains to Federal Way. No one in the Legislature took the Federal Way City Council up on its call to rewrite the rules about how money is split between regions.
Priest said it was hard “to educate legislators” on technical issues and get action in a 60-day legislative session.
The proposed authority to de-annex would apply to future ballot measures and wouldn’t release city residents from paying the 2008 voter-approved sales tax increase.
Sound Transit says it has no choice but to delay planned extension to South 272nd Street until 2034 or later due to lagging revenues in the South King County “subarea.” Each of the transit authority’s five subareas has to pay for its own projects.
“While it is clear that you would like us to eliminate or reduce projects in other subareas to complete the light rail extension to South 272nd Street, the Sound Transit Board is legally obligated to allocate funding for projects in accordance with ... the financial policies approved by the voters in 2008,” Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said in a letter to Priest this month.
A Sound Transit spokesman, Geoff Patrick, said the agency has no position yet on the legislation but said it’s understandable that South King residents are disappointed with the delays.
One local lawmaker declined to push the city’s proposals. Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide said she wants to see the findings from a performance audit planned by State Auditor Brian Sonntag before the state gets involved in a regional issue.
Sonntag’s office said it would pay contractor Talbot, Korvola & Warwick $322,000 to do the audit.
Eide said it’s premature “to lob bombs – and that’s what I think these are – instead of thinking these out logically and finding a solution to the problem of how we can get service down to the south end and ultimately to Pierce County.”
Priest said he’s no bomb-thrower and that he’s not asking for anything “over the top.” He’s trying to work with Sound Transit on several fronts, he said.
Among the other legislation:
• Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, proposes requiring performance audits of Sound Transit every year, with the agency on the hook for the costs.
• Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, proposes creating a publicly elected five-member board to govern Sound Transit, replacing an 18-member board made up of appointees of the King, Pierce and Snohomish county executives, plus the secretary of transportation.
• Asay and Prentice have several proposals that Asay said would promote transparency at the ballot.
“They’re getting ready to go out for another (ballot measure),” she said, “so we just want to make sure those voting on the measure have the information they need to make an informed choice.”
The agency hasn’t yet decided if and when it might ask voters for more taxes.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826