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Stormy week in Puget Sound politics | Bob Roegner
Two weeks ago, a winter storm blew through the region and disrupted everything. That is, everything but politics, although there were some winds blowing there as well.
Let’s start with schools. The Federal Way School District has a replacement levy proposal on the ballot on Feb. 14, which is also traditionally when the King County Assessor sends out your new property evaluations. Ah... Happy Valentine’s Day! When I was deputy assessor, I found the greetings I received on that day to be significantly less than loving.
The school district is asking for money to remodel Federal Way High School along with some other improvements, and for an excess levy to replace the current one. The high school was built in 1938, and the longer we wait to improve it, the more expensive it will get. Like all governments, the district has been hit with significant budget reductions. The recent McCleary ruling may help focus the Legislature on future K-12 needs, but the district needs the help that our local voters can provide now.
After the storm, I joined the president of Highline Community College and other trustees in Olympia to meet with legislators regarding the need to support higher education as well as K-12. Highline has experienced significant reductions in state assistance at a time when they are trying to prepare the next generation for a four-year college or the workforce.
The Legislature is considering a bill that would put a half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot in April. If passed, it could help the college, schools and other needed services. It is a hot issue that has yet to achieve consensus, and the final product isn’t known yet.
Legislators from both parties were receptive and supportive of the need to invest in education at all levels. But they were also distracted by a more volatile issue, as those who favor and oppose gay\lesbian marriage arrived in the capital about the same time we did. The Democrat-controlled House had plenty of votes to pass the marriage bill. But the Senate was one vote short.
There isn’t much room for compromise between the opposing views. That was made clear as one group threatened any Republican senator who voted in favor of the bill with political reprisals, including putting up more than $250,000 to defeat them. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) dramatically provided the 25th vote in the Senate.
Some Republican senators who wanted to support the bill breathed much easier after Haugen took them off the hook — and they could vote no.
Later in the week, the South King Fire and Rescue board approved putting an excess levy for $3.5 million on the ballot in April. Here again, economic conditions have caused budget reductions. The fire district tried a service benefit charge in 2010, but it was defeated.
After that, I heard some heavy hitters were in the state from the other Washington trying to recruit Republican Congressman Dave Reichert to run for the U.S. Senate. Under redistricting, Reichert gained a lot more Republican voters, so a Senate run seems unlikely.
Since my furnace decided it would like to be replaced with a newer model at the worst possible time, I was happy to attend the Federal Way Mayor-City Council annual retreat in the warm confines of Dumas Bay conference center Jan. 25.
They discussed the sustainability of the city budget, police services, crime is down by the way, and whether or not the public speaking time at council meetings should be increased from three to five minutes. They decided no, but they did make an allowance for a speaker representing a group of five or more.
They had a lively discussion about installing more street banners for tourist events. The public works director noted that the banners have to be very big, possibly 8 feet tall, and be stationed at intersections like 320th Street and Pacific Highway so drivers can read them when they are stopped at the red lights.
Given that only about half of the 50,000 cars that go through that intersection per day actually stop at the red lights, the city may want to make them 12 feet tall so they can be read at 40 mph.
However, the banners will be a nice addition to downtown.
Speaking of downtown, during the discussion on economic development, the city staff was quite positive about the status of a performing arts and conference center, but unusually vague about the financial situation with the Boston group advocating the Crystal Palace proposal. Their seeming lack of confidence and the availability of pictures of other options was a major surprise.
Many in the community see the Crystal Palace concept as an essential element in their hope for the future of downtown. Mayor Skip Priest’s comments also seemed to lower expectations of the project. The city council only partially pursued a line of questioning to clarify the financial viability of the proponents. Is everyone being careful with public discussion? Or is it possible there is significant concern about whether the project will proceed?
Lastly, there was an interesting discussion by the council about their rules of procedures and the deputy mayor position, and it provided a fitting end to a stormy few days.
But that’s another column.