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Federal Way takes light rail fight to Olympia to reform Sound Transit
Federal Way is taking the light rail fight to Olympia by urging state lawmakers to pass legislative reforms on the region's transit authority.
Last year, Sound Transit announced an indefinite delay in extending light rail past South 240th Street and into Federal Way. South King County has experienced a 31 percent shortfall of $850 million in tax revenue to pay for light rail. Federal Way taxpayers will still pay their share of the project — estimated by the city at $13.5 million a year.
State Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way) introduced House Bill 2716, a bill that would compel an annual audit of Sound Transit, on Jan. 26. The bill is aimed at bringing accountability to Sound Transit over the light rail project that was promised to Federal Way in the 2008 Sound Transit 2 bond. The plan called for a station at South 272nd Street by 2023.
"Federal Way residents are expected to hand over nearly a quarter of a billion dollars for light rail service that we were promised but are now told we won't get," Miloscia said in a news release. "We have a right to know why the promise is being broken and exactly where our money and other funding for Sound Transit is going."
Miloscia's bill comes on the heels of the announcement of an audit of Sound Transit by Brian Sonntag and his State Auditor's office. According to a release from Miloscia's office, that audit will begin on Jan. 31 and is expected to be completed by September. The audit will be performed by Talbot, Korvola and Warwick, LLP. One of the specific objectives of the audit is to answer the question: "Considering the decline in local tax revenues, how effective has Sound Transit been at meeting the promises made in its ST2 ballot measure in 2008?"
On top of this bill from Miloscia, there are number of other bills moving in the state Legislature regarding Sound Transit. Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-Renton) introduced a bill to change the leadership structure of Sound Transit, with her bill looking to replace the current 18-member board with a five-member board elected by the public. The leadership board for Sound Transit is selected by the King, Pierce and Snohomish county executives, with the state secretary of transportation also having a say in the process.
District 30 State Rep. Katrina Asay (R-Milton) introduced a bill that would allow communities to essentially drop out of Sound Transit when things go awry, a mechanism that is currently non-existent for the communities with dealings with Sound Transit. Asay also has three other proposals that would aim to increase transparency from Sound Transit when it proposes capital projects such as the ST2 project.
State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way) released a statement in support of the state audit on Sound Transit, but backed off on supporting legislation related to the city's situation.
"Attempting to pass legislation before we know the results of the audit may prove to be counterproductive to our interests," Eide said. "By dismantling Sound Transit without first targeting where waste and abuse exists, we jeopardize our end goal of eventually extending link light rail to Federal Way."
In a Jan. 17 letter to District 30 lawmakers, Mayor Skip Priest and the Federal Way City Council say that dismantling Sound Transit is not in the interests of Federal Way.
"There are many, many questions that the city has about the money Sound Transit is collecting from Federal Way taxpayers, as well as the level of services being provided, especially in light of the broken promise to bring light rail to Federal Way," Mayor Skip Priest said Jan. 17. "Frankly, they are issues important to the entire region."
Sound Transit responses
The transit authority has promised to explore finance options, conduct an analysis of the South King County subarea and create a public dialogue in Federal Way.
In December, Sound Transit board members joined regional elected leaders for a summit to discuss transportation and light rail in the region. In a Jan. 19 letter to Mayor Skip Priest, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl expressed disappointment that neither Priest nor city council members attended the summit, held at Highline Community College. City spokesman Chris Carrel was Federal Way's only attendee.
In the letter, Earl responded to several points addressed in a letter from Priest in December.
In regards to money allocation among Sound Transit's subareas, Earl explained that the board does not have the legal authority to "cancel adequately funded projects in one subarea so that the subarea's tax dollars can be used to fund projects in another subarea." Sound Transit is legally obligated to build the projects in the ST2 plan.