Lent content to sit on fence about track

Central Kitsap voters will have all the fun during the primary election of commissioner candidates this year in County Commissioner District 3, but the rest of us can still be avid spectators while awaiting our turn in the general election.

If we’re lucky, the residents of Central Kitsap will press the candidates to tell us where they stand on issues like the proposed construction of a speedway in this county – and why.

The proposal by the International Speedway Corp. (ISC) to build a NASCAR-capable speedway in South Kitsap is in the news again, partly because Lieutenant Gov. Brad Owen gave ISC an opportunity to make its case to the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations.

ISC’s proposal also made news when county commissioners Chris Endresen and Patty Lent reportedly expressed opposition to the legislative proposal to finance part of the speedway’s construction with tax revenue generated by the speedway and its visitors.

Lent promptly clarified matters by denying she is anything but neutral on the proposal.

No one should be surprised that Lent wants to sit on the fence. According to a news report a few months ago, she expressed relief that she would not have to take a position before the elections this fall.

It’s sometimes said that there are two types of elected representatives — those who decide based on principles, and those who attempt to discern the feelings of their constituents and vote accordingly. The latter are often said to be checking the wind direction before choosing which way to go.

We apparently need to revise this way of categorizing elected officials if we want to include Lent. There has to be a category for someone who likes to hide in the weeds until flushed out by the necessity of announcing her vote.

Aside from frustrating voters who want to make informed decisions when electing a county commissioner, Lent’s fence-sitting behavior leaves us with one of our three commissioners contributing nothing to the public debate surrounding the legislative proposal.

Lent must try to remain neutral on issues like zoning, permits, and other such land-use questions, but she has no excuse for failing to engage in a public discussion of the key elements of the proposal that must be decided by the Legislature.

If the Legislature gives the county’s admissions tax power to a public speedway authority (PSA), the principal part of this decision would have been made with no input from Lent.

ISC’s legislative proposal would use up to 80 percent of the admissions tax revenue for part of the construction costs and for capital improvements after the bonds are retired. 

The county would get 20 percent or possibly more, depending on the outcome of negotiations between the county and the PSA and its lessee.

Lent could let us and our legislators know whether she believes giving up a potential source of county revenue is a good idea without affecting her ability to negotiate later.

The legislative proposal would exempt ISC’s subsidiary, Great Western Sports, Inc., from paying market-value rent for its commercial use of the facility and from paying the leasehold excise tax on anything more than its private office spaces.

Lent could state her opinion about the effect of this tax exemption on the county and the taxing districts within the county that would also not receive leasehold excise tax revenue from the speedway’s lessee, e.g., the school district, fire district, and library district.

The legislative proposal would leave for later negotiation the question of who pays for infrastructure improvements, so Lent might note that the proposal would leave little new revenue available to the county or state to pay such costs.

Jack Hamilton, Lent’s opponent in the Republican primary, has an opportunity to distinguish himself by stating his position about the speedway proposal and the principles on which it is based.

So far, Hamilton’s reported statement is indistinguishable from Lent’s position: “We should look at this in a positive light with the negatives to be sorted out.”

The only Democratic Party candidate appears to be Josh Brown, who has taken a small step toward a position on the speedway proposal. As he says on his Web site, he opposes “public financing for private projects.”

Now, if Brown will tell us whether he supports or opposes public financing of the Port of Bremerton project known as “Kitsap SEED,” we might learn whether his opposition is based on some principle.

According to its Web site, the SEED project involves building a center near the Bremerton airport for private tenants who may become leaders in the sustainable energy industry.

It would be interesting if we have one candidate in each category – fence sitter, wind tester, and principled decision maker. Let’s hope there is at least one who fits in the last category.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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