A crisis of our making

Livingston: Lawmakers need to look at big picture for area to succeed.

The 2018 legislative session is under way and our 30th District representatives are being challenged to ply their magic to bring home some bacon.

They have met with our municipal and school district officials and listened to their requests to find dollars for our schools, a desired university initiative, a culinary institute, preservation of wetlands on the former Weyerhaeuser campus, homelessness resources and a few others. All necessary asks in the current paradigm of city thinking.

While requests sound progressive, they are merely process steps for keeping the current foundation intact while seeking new potential. The question I ask is, are these ideas big enough to build a sustainable future and facilitate Federal Way’s ascendance into being an attractor community valued for quality, by entrepreneurs and businesses of scale?

While Federal Way has been trying to figure out how to improve its functionality, the cities of Tacoma and Seattle have been gentrifying and redefining their city cores for many years. The industrial port operations that drove some people to the suburbs due to poor air quality and gritty feel of being seedy port personalities is gone. The world of containerized shipping and large-scale intermodal operations driven by computerized logistics and robots means that more work is being done by fewer people. Their port areas are maintaining vitality while getting cleaner.

The asks being made of our 30th District legislators feel a bit like asking Santa Claus for presents, but that is the public process. It is also important to remember our legislators serve more than Federal Way. Their efforts focus on addressing immediate local needs of several communities and some projects of their own. But for our long-term beneficial progress, their focus needs to be on repositioning our region of the South Sound 30 years out.

What are the ideas and resources that will make our corner of southwest King and northwest Pierce counties economically sustainable with a higher standard of living and become desired destinations of stature and significance?

Yes, I know there are many of you who resist any sentiment of change and improvement. You like it the way it is or was, but history shows that cities and their surrounding areas that do not invest in their future and think only in the past or present generally fail over time.

Understand that Rust Belt cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were able to rebuild themselves because they had diversity, economic resources and forward thinking options. Detroit, Michigan, Youngstown, Ohio, and Erie, Pennsylvania, are struggling to find a path forward because they had minimal job diversity and a company town mindset. They have believed for many years that their past manufacturing glory was going to return.

Federal Way’s local thinking is still suffering from the sting of Weyerhaeuser leaving. The city’s request for state funding to preserve a piece of their former campus by purchasing wetlands now owned by Industrial Realty Group may help smooth over the negative dynamic that some have regarding future development options for the property. Important as that purchase may be, it does not significantly improve Federal Way’s capability as a jobs or economic attractor.

For Federal Way to improve on all fronts, it needs to become less border centric and more understanding of how to align and dovetail needed requests with our adjacent peer cities. The cities of Tacoma, Auburn, Fife, Des Moines and Federal Way represent a population base of approximately 500,000. Like it or not, collectively we have more in common in terms of problems, needs and synergistic potential.

A major transportation opportunity that would help South King and north Pierce counties immensely would be upgrading State Highway 18. Upgrading this corridor from Interstate 90 to and through Federal Way to the Port of Tacoma to a federal highway standard is necessary to support population growth and serve the economic needs of the region.

While a university initiative is being requested, it may be more appropriate to focus on becoming a high-tech engineering and robotics technology education and resource center complimenting the types of manufacturing operations located in the South Sound that will be transitioning to automated production. If the education resources and support base does not match anticipated future regional needs, jobs won’t follow.

Homelessness and its growing expansion throughout the South Sound are to some extent the unintended or possibly intended consequences of policies initiated in earnest in the Reagan Administration. Thirty-five plus years of off-shoring jobs, under funding social programs, schools and seeing those less fortunate as “takers” means that many of today’s homeless are by-product of tax policy, corporatization and greed.

We must understand that we are trapped in a crisis of our own making. The starting point for alleviating the homelessness problem requires focusing on the root causes that brought into alignment selfish corporate policies combined with political behaviors of elected officials, on the federal and state level, seeking campaign handouts and power for the sake of power.

Any resources the state Legislature provides to alleviate the needs of the homeless will only be temporary. Dealing with the human suffering that is in front of us is a must but until we undo the policies that created the problem it will continue to grow. Politicians enabled this growing crisis by becoming servants of corporate interests.

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges facing this state got left unmentioned. Truthfully this state’s regressive tax structure is a politician’s kryptonite. According to the online magazine Crosscut.com: “Washington relies more heavily on high sales taxes than any other state, and 77 percent of its revenue comes from a consumption tax of one kind or another. But that tax base is shrinking as a part of the state’s $477 billion economy.” Basically, this means the current tax system is inadequate to meet future needs and eventually must be restructured.

While both houses of the legislature and the executive branch in our state are presently controlled by members of the Democratic party, this does not mean that any changes to this state’s tax structure are going to be seriously discussed in the foreseeable future. If no action is taken, eventually the revenues needed to meet the needs of this state will be insufficient. This is already the case for our public schools. Our legislators may have a significant challenge finding dollars in a shrinking regressive tax revenue stream to support the asks by our municipal and school district officials.

Hopefully our legislators are up for the challenge. Just realize, that if our legislators focus primarily on the current wish list the results will be less than adequate for our region’s future.

My challenge to them is to represent our region with a sense of building value, opportunity, thinking holistically, avoiding the petty ideological issues that both parties like as distractions and focus on positioning resources that will achieve sustainability for Federal Way and the region 30 years out. As you go boldly into this session, do not forget your job is to also bring home some bacon.

Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.

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