By Reps. Derek Stanford and Drew MacEwen
It’s time to go to work. All across Washington, tens of thousands of people are looking for jobs. In Olympia, we have a chance to work together and foster opportunity so these people can get back to work. Through a state-and-local partnership, we can create jobs and build projects to help the health and economic development of our communities for decades to come.
We have a proven system in place to make this happen; all we need to do is get it moving again. The Public Works Assistance Account helps local governments provide clean water, working sewers and other projects that open the path for new economic development. For 30 years, our state has supported vital, local priorities with this fundamental PWAA partnership. This program offers loans to local communities — and, as the loans are repaid with interest, the money goes right back into the account. There has never been a default in the program. Our bipartisan measure, House Bill 2244, will bring this program out of a state of limbo.
One of the tough choices the Legislature made during the recession was to temporarily cut these investments in local public works. Consequently, our communities are struggling to meet their needs for reliable infrastructure. This means risks to public health as drinking water and sewer systems fail. It also means some businesses can’t add jobs or new facilities because basic utilities aren’t up to the task.
Historically, the account has enabled communities to undertake critical public-works projects that fuel economic growth. Since the raid on the PWAA, however, no new projects are funded for this 2013-2015 budget cycle and many local governments have been forced to turn to the private bond market. But that strategy isn’t an option for some towns. Even small differences in interest rates can have a huge impact on local construction. For example, a $2.5 million project in one city grew to a cost of $4.3 million through the volatile bond market. Another city lost a $9.75 million federal transportation grant because matching PWAA dollars were cancelled. These higher bond rates and costs translate to more expensive utility rates.
The measure we’re advancing will directly address these problems — and generate thousands of jobs in the process. We believe this new direction will go a long way toward:
Rebuilding our state’s partnership with local communities.
Creating opportunity for men and women who want to work.
Providing long-term health and economic benefits of reliable public utilities.
Our legislation has gained support from the Association of Washington Business, the Washington State Labor Council, and mayors from across the state who testified in support. We hope Senate leadership will bring this legislation to a vote. We need to take this step for jobs and healthy communities.
Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, and Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, are the Vice Chair and the assistant Ranking Minority Member, respectively, of the House Capital Budget Committee.