House revives bill to create jobs and renovate schools

OLYMPIA — Virtually ignored for weeks, a ballot measure to create thousands of jobs is getting a second life in the special session.

Political momentum among Democrats is gaining for the measure to raise $861 million from the sale of bonds and plow the money into renovating, weatherizing and rehabilitating schools.

On Tuesday, House Democrats re-approved the bill to put it before voters this November, then sent the legislation to the Senate, where it had died in the regular session.

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, the bill’s sponsor, said he is confident of a different result because there is more time; pressure is on Democrats to show they are trying to spur job creation and the governor is getting behind it.

He recognizes success will likely require him to shrink the size of the bond and change how it is paid off — two areas evoking the greatest concern from fellow Democrats as well as Republicans.

“I’m working with the governor’s office in perfecting the bill so it is acceptable to the Senate,” he said Tuesday. “I’m feeling pretty good.”

The House passed his bill Jan. 20. On Tuesday, on a 54-39 vote, they re-launched it for the special session.

As now written, bond proceeds would be spent replacing roofs, installing insulation, cleaning mold-infested buildings and making energy-saving improvements in school campuses and a few state offices.

Dunshee contends it will create work for 38,000 people over a six-year period, permanently reduce energy bills for schools and infuse state coffers with much-needed sales tax revenues starting in 2011.

While the governor, state treasurer and Senate majority leader have not discounted those benefits, they have openly worried about the state’s ability to handle the additional bond debt.

They’ve been reticent about using $35 million a year from the cash-strapped general fund to pay off most of the bonds and relying on savings from lower energy bills to cover the rest.

In recent days, the tone has softened as Democrats pursue job-creating initiatives to approve in the special session.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has met separately with Treasurer Jim McIntire, House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Dunshee to discuss selling fewer bonds and using dollars from the 2010 Capital Budget to jump-start work.

They’ve all been batting around ideas for paying off the bonds, such as a hike in the monthly utility tax paid by households statewide. Nothing’s been selected.

“The Senate has now made it very clear that they are interested in a bill,” Gregoire said in an interview last week. “The problem is when Hans put it out, Jim said to me, I’m worried about the bonds and the (bond) rating and I think we need to have some sort of revenue to back them up. That’s why we started looking for something.”

On Tuesday, McIntire’s spokesman, Chris McGann, said the treasurer is engaged in the conversations “to see if there is a way to craft a proposal that will address my concerns.”

In the meantime, after the regular session ended last week, Brown said the Senate remained concerned about bonding “outside the state debt limit.”

“We just want to make sure we’re in a fiscal position to be able to afford the interest costs in a responsible way. We’re not opposed to the concept. We’ve got to work out the details,” she said.

Republicans are united in opposition to the bill Democrats tout as the Jobs Act of 2010. That hasn’t changed since Dunshee first introduced it.

On Tuesday, during the floor debate, Republicans argued that jobs will not be created quickly, nor will they be well-paid and long-lasting. This bond, they said, will increase the amount of state debt to levels that could hurt economic recovery.

“I think it’s a bad way to go,” said Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe.

The bond measure is House Bill 2561.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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