Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Wash. House approves bonds for school upgrades

OLYMPIA — Voters would decide whether to launch a statewide package of energy-efficient school makeovers under a bill approved Wednesday by the state House.

The plan, spearheaded by Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, is aimed at spurring specialized construction jobs and capturing electricity savings at public buildings.

If approved by the Legislature and endorsed by voters in November, Dunshee estimates the projects could feed about 38,000 jobs and save taxpayers about $190 million per year in energy costs.

The state would sell about $860 million in bonds to finance the projects with grants. K-12 public schools and public colleges or universities would get the lion’s share, although some local governments and other entities could compete.

State taxpayers would be on the hook for about $1.5 billion over 20 years to pay off the bonds, including interest.

Dunshee characterized the bill as a bold investment that will reward taxpayers with energy savings, improved infrastructure and needed jobs.

“It saves money, it pays for itself, it’s got jobs for every corner of the state,” Dunshee said during debate Wednesday. He also noted that the state’s 9.5 percent unemployment rate for December, reported earlier in the day, was the highest in a quarter-century.

The measure was approved by the House on a 57-41 vote, and now moves to the Senate. It was the first significant bill approved by either body during the 2010 Legislature, which convened earlier this month for a scheduled 60-day session.

Republican House members objected to the plan, nicknamed the “Jobs Act,” citing its expansion of state debt.

Washington’s operating budget already relies on a significant amount of cash raided from debt-service accounts, and state Treasurer Jim McIntire has warned that the state needs to free up about $500 million by September to avoid running out of cash to pay its bills.

While the goals outlined in the Jobs Act sound worthy, “sometimes you have to make hard choices between aspirational desires and financial realities,” said Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City.

McIntire, a Democrat, also panned the bill, saying the additional debt could harm the state’s credit rating. Instead, McIntire advocated using the state’s existing construction budget to finance the kind of projects Dunshee is advocating.