With the short legislative session now underway in Olympia, local governments are working on their lists of projects and laws they hope will be added to lawmakers’ agendas.
STATE ROUTE 167
Top of the list for local cities, as it has been for decades, is for state lawmakers to find funding to finish State Route 167. Doing so would provide a more streamlined route between the warehouse and distribution centers in the Puyallup Valley with shipping operations at the Port of Tacoma.
“Fife, along with other communities in the Puyallup and Kent valleys, is part of the second largest warehouse distribution hub on the West Coast,” Fife’s legislative agenda states. “It is critical to the economic health of the Central Puget Sound and the state, to the future competitiveness of the Port of Tacoma, and to jobs creation and freight mobility, to ‘finish what was started’ and complete this corridor.”
That’s not likely this year.
Construction of the road started in the 1960s but has largely been stalled since the 1980's with lack of funding for the final section of the roadway that now abruptly stops in Fife. Its completion is expected to improve safety and reduce congestion along local roads and freeways in the surrounding area but comes at a cost of about $2.4 billion, and lawmakers are shy about increasing taxes to fund it. That is especially true this session since it is an election year, and lawmakers have a long roster of other projects and programs that are demanding taxpayer dollars.
Lawmakers, for example, have to find ways to funnel more dollars to public education under a Supreme Court decision that stated legislators were violating the state Constitution’s “paramount duty” of properly funding schools. The economy continues to lag in most of the state so added taxes aren’t likely either. Policy makers are also increasingly shy about funding massive transportation projects in light of the Seattle tunneling delays and projected cost overruns associated with those delays.
“All those stars have to align” to get SR-167 funding, Tacoma’s Government Relations Officer Randy Lewis said.
Even with those troubles, the completion of the freight corridor remains a top priority for lawmakers around the state, at least in theory. Lewis blames “legislative inertia.”
“An object at rest remains at rest and it is hard to get the legislature to get out of rest,” he said.
Other common legislative agendas for local cities include state funding, or more local authority for funding, city street and transportation improvements and economic development projects. Cities also want a higher percentage of liquor and sales taxes that would go to local projects instead of to the state’s General Fund. Local governments further want state lawmakers to stop passing new laws and regulations without funding ways for governments to enforce the new laws, commonly known as “unfunded mandates.”
Local governments have their eyes on Olympia as lawmakers continue to figure out the rules and oversight of recreational uses of marijuana. Several bills involve the folding of medical cannabis and recreational marijuana under one set of laws as a way to streamline regulations and change the taxing formula. The recreational marijuana initiative that passed state voters last year allowing for recreational marijuana, for example, stated that 50 percent of the tax would go toward Washington State’s Basic Health program, but the federal Affordable Care Act eliminated that program by expanding other health options. That means the state’s tax formula will shuffle and local governments want a larger slice of that pie. House Bill 2149 boosts that percentage from 25 percent of the retail sales tax to 30 percent flowing to local governments.
Cities have been given the green light to ban marijuana shops outright after the Attorney General issued a legal opinion that stated Initiative 502 does not prevent cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses.
“Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances,” the opinion stated. “Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors, and retailers in Washington State, it includes no clear indication that it was intended to preempt local authority to regulate such businesses. We therefore conclude that I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions.”
Pierce County has enacted a ban on pot shops by stating all businesses have to follow local, state and federal laws. That essentially bans marijuana shops because pot is still an illegal drug in the eyes of federal law enforcement agencies.
Tacoma will allow pot shops, while many smaller cities have enacted moratoria on issuing business licenses until the legal issues have been resolved.
Adding to the general roster of city agendas are local projects. Fife, for example, would like $1 million to complete Brookville Gardens Park, an 11-acre park that will be located just off Valley Avenue and serve as a regional recreational facility. The park would have play equipment, internal pathways, trail connections, “green” roofs for the restrooms and picnic shelter and a pedestrian bridge from the parking lot over Wapato Creek. This project is time sensitive because the pedestrian bridge must be built concurrently with wetlands mitigation, stream enhancement and culvert removal work Fife is already doing.