Opinion

Shifting the blame for light rail snub | Andy Hobbs

By and large, Federal Way feels cheated by Sound Transit — despite the lack of money to build a light rail in the first place.

Nearly three years and $12 million later, Federal Way and tax-challenged South King County are generating 31 percent less tax revenue to pay for the voter-approved project.

That’s the largest tax gap among Sound Transit’s five collection areas.

Best case scenario: the light rail will end as far south as Highline Community College in Des Moines.

Federal Way is considering legal action against Sound Transit for this broken promise. Good. The city finance director calculates a 30-year cost of $240 million for Federal Way taxpayers, regardless of whether light rail comes here. Now let your imagination run wild on where else that money could go.

There is interesting food for thought behind these scenes. In an old drawer at The Mirror office, I found a 2005 statement by former Federal Way City Council candidate Mark Walsh. It has a chart listing the population-to-jobs ratio for Federal Way, Kent, Renton and Bellevue.

Federal Way had 32,000 jobs for its then-population of 85,800. By comparison, Bellevue had 121,000 jobs for its then-population of 117,000. That’s right, Bellevue had more jobs than residents, this chart says. Kent had 67,000 jobs to a then-84,275 people, and Renton had 35,600 jobs for a then-55,360 people.

“We are an exporter of jobs to other cities,” Walsh said in the 2005 statement. Regardless of the numbers’ accuracy, they paint a sobering picture. If you think job creation is simply hot-air political speak for candidates, think again.

Employees often work outside their hometown, but Federal Way sends more workers than it receives from neighboring cities. Without knowing the statistics for 2011, it’s safe to say an imbalance remains. But more jobs means more people flowing through Federal Way. That means more businesses, which means more tax money in the coffers.

With light rail, Federal Way was largely cheated by circumstance. At 89,306 residents, Federal Way is big enough to need it, but apparently is too poor and too far away. If only Seattle were 10 miles closer ...

In the meantime, light rail and Sound Transit should play second fiddle to Federal Way’s own self-improvement. There is no magic answer to job creation. Besides people who spend their money here, the city needs people who make their money here.

There are more than enough minds to create opportunities within these borders. To go a step further, consider that every creation has the potential to create jobs and raise the public’s overall quality of life. Creation means making something that the public can incorporate into their lives, simply because it exists. Creation is the community’s gasoline and its engine. All this hot rod needs is a creative mindset to light the fire and make it go.

Of course, it’s a lot harder without money. Tap the creative side of Federal Way, and it will love us back. Aim for novelty. Discipline that impulse to play it safe. Create a reason for people to visit, and it could create a reason for businesses to hire, hire, hire. The city can increase its odds of making more money right here, right now.

Rather than blaming Sound Transit, should the city instead blame the job-to-population ratio? Had it been higher, you might not be reading about the scrapped light rail.

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