Bill requires taxpayers to pay for relocation of private utility company facilities

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Sound Transit and local elected and community leaders today are calling on lawmakers in Olympia to oppose newly revived legislation that would require taxpayers to pay for the relocation of private utility company facilities. The bill would overturn established state law and years of legal precedent that requires private for-profit utility companies to pay the cost of relocating their facilities on public streets when the streets are improved or public facilities like rail transit are added.

Filed on June 2, SB 6084 follows SB 5632, which Gov. Gary Locke vetoed in April. The new bill would also shift the financial burden for relocating private utility lines in connection with mass transit projects from the private sector to the public.

"This bill that is being reconsidered to change this - suddenly in the final days of the special legislative session - benefits only the private utilities, not the taxpayer or the projects on which their money is to be spent," said King County Executive Ron Sims, Sound Transit Board chair.

"Not only is this an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money, it is inconsistent with current state and federal court rulings regarding the use of publics streets by private utilities. It is also inconsistent with Gov. Locke's own veto message, which states we should have a deliberative process to address the issue," said Sims. "It would take money that voters approved for fixing our transportation crisis and give it to private companies. This is simply unacceptable."

Under current law, private utilities such as telecommunications companies are allowed to install their lines in publicly owned right of ways, often free of charge. However, the law recognizes the primary purpose of the right of ways is meeting public transportation needs. Local elected officials can require a private utility to relocate its facilities at its own expense rather than the public's.

The proposed law would create a sole exception to this rule for costs of relocations needed to complete Sound Transit's regional mass transit network. It would establish a precedent that private utilities could cite in targeting other public governments to cover costs previously borne by the private sector.

"This is an issue of ensuring public tax dollars are spent on desperately needed public projects," said Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Board Vice Chair John Ladenburg. "The changes the utilities want clearly deserve more attention than this attempt to jam them through in the waning days of a special legislative session. We'd be glad to take part in a thoughtful and comprehensive examination, but this bill is something else entirely."

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