Opinion

Building up our job-numbers should be Job No. 1 down in Olympia | GUEST OPINION

State Rep. June Robinson - Courtesy Photo
State Rep. June Robinson
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Six years ago, the Great Recession hit town. Every town. Still today, this worst economic calamity in more than seven decades is pummeling Marysville, Tulalip, and our other Snohomish County communities. The economic doldrums are hitting us every bit as hard as folks in other Washington regions, other states, and other countries.

So what should we do? What's the best way to spark the economy — to promote job-growth and development? Sure enough, most everyone talks a good game when it comes to creating reliable, decent-paying jobs. But you know what? Now's the time to get down to serious, real-world business. It's high time we walk the talk, once and for all, in advancing a strategy to put people back to work.

I'm supporting a bipartisan reform idea for restoring the state's capital budget (some people call it the construction budget) to its appropriate standing. Yes, many Republicans as well as Democrats are backing this House Bill 2244, which we passed, 87-11, the other day in the House. The legislation is a concerted response to the capital-budget message lawmakers have heard — since certain actions were taken in the 2013 legislative session — from local businesspeople and from other community leaders. This message has come through loud and clear.

The backstory here is the state's Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA). A ton of this account's funding help for extremely important local projects was swept away last year when the PWAA was raided. This "raid" on the state's capital budget was undertaken because money was needed to fund other state programs in the state's operating budget. The other projects were deemed even more important than PWAA projects. Our 2014 legislation would restore those public-works resources.

What we have here in the PWAA account is a partnership. It's a classic win-win partnership pursued by our state and local communities that works toward job-creation and infrastructural development. Historically, the PWAA has fueled substantial economic growth. Thanks to the account, Washington communities for years and years have been able to get -- and to keep -- men and women back on the job of building vital public-works projects. At the very same time, much-needed infrastructural development has come to cities, towns, and neighborhoods that wouldn't otherwise come.

Last year's PWAA raid has meant that very few new projects are funded for the current (2013-2015) biennium. Local cities have had to go to the bond market. And for more than a few towns, bonding is not a good option. Not good at all.

Leaders from our local business communities and from our local governments have streamed into our Capital Budget Committee meetings this year. They've underscored a simple, straightforward message: "Terribly dire straits in other areas of the budget prompted last year's Legislature to use PWAA money as a way to patch up serious holes. OK, we get that. But this year's Legislature has some new, equally serious 'patching up' to do."

These citizens emphasize that erosion of key local programs whacks a brutal shiner on key local public-works systems. PWAA funding over the program's many years has gone for projects directly enabling citizens and groups of citizens to build houses and businesses. Restoring the account is the mission of the legislation we're moving through Olympia right now. This restoration will help put building-and-trades people back to work. These very construction workers are among the folks slammed hardest by the recession. On any given day since 2008, after all, construction workers — 70,000 of them — have been off the job.

Terms of the legislation encourage projects:

  • To get Washington people back to work.
  • To give the economy a genuine and long-term boost.
  • To grant local communities help in strengthening their infrastructure.

Yes, the capital budget was assaulted last year -- in the form of the raid on PWAA programs. Instead, we could have been putting folks to work constructing buildings and other parts of our infrastructure. We could have been injecting our economy with a boost to endure for generations. But no. Instead, we skimped on PWAA construction projects. Indeed, funding for schools, universities and other vital components of the infrastructure was shoved off the table, slashed by billions of dollars.

It doesn't have to be that way. We can, and we must, build a better Washington. The reform advocated in HB 2244 will restore, in the next budget period, PWAA funds for many schools and other construction projects. It's our surest path for steering away from the inertia in the current unconstructive construction-budget policy.

A bipartisan proposal providing important new funding help for vital school-construction projects has just been introduced in the House. I believe this measure, House Bill 2797, would help answer very serious construction needs in our schools -- as well as put people back to work. The legislation authorizes the sale of $700 million in bonds to pay both for building new, full-day kindergarten classrooms and for reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

State Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, represents the 38th Legislative District in the Washington State Legislature. Her district includes Snohomish County neighborhoods and communities in Everett, Marysville, and Tulalip.

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