Olympia- The House passed its first bill of the session this week — a measure that would ask voters to decide whether to create jobs by using $860 million in bonds in order to make schools more energy efficient.
The bill “catalyzes probably about 2.5 billion dollars in work, which gives you 38,000 jobs, and will account in $190 million dollars in savings to the taxpayer every single year,” explained Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, the bills’ creator and primary sponsor. If approved by the Senate, the measure, House Bill 2561, would need voter approval in November.
The bill would allow schools and universities to compete for $860 million in grants in order to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. The state will provide the money by selling bonds with a lifespan of 20 years at a cost of around 1.5 billion, which includes principle and interest. Dunshee projects that the cost of the bonds will be recouped by way of job creation, tax revenue, and reduced energy costs.
But with Washington’s unemployment rate up to 9.5 percent in December and the state facing enormous budget cuts, the choice for some lawmakers boils down to creating jobs or saving money, while the energy efficiency of the schools lies somewhere in between.
“We need jobs now!”exclaimed an impassioned Rep. Kathy Haigh, D- Shelton, to her colleagues during the House floor debate.
But Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, and Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, voiced concerns about how the bill could affect the state’s credit rating, citing state Treasurer Jim McIntire’s warnings against the bill.
With many Americans receiving their unemployment checks in the mail every week, the task of job creation rests upon local and national lawmakers. What has emerged is a debate about job creation projections, which was much of the focus on the floor debate. The bill carries estimates that it will create 38,000 jobs, but Dunshee says that this is conservative, and it will most likely produce a higher number of jobs through support staff, manufacturing jobs, and by workers stimulating local economies.
Former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro, who served under Gov. Dan Evans in the early 1970s, testified in support of the bill at a committee hearing last week. His administration faced a similar economic downturn and he urged lawmakers to be bold and “to give it a shot.” The bill also has the support of the Washington State Labor Council.
“FDR put America back to work. Evans put Washington state back to work — and that’s what this bill is about,” stated Dunshee in an article released Thursday.
— Jennifer Privette