This editorial will appear in the Thursday print edition.
State Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, thinks he has the cure for what ails the economy – and state lawmakers.
His green jobs bill, a slimmed-down version of what he called “the WPA of its time” in 2009, was the first bill to pass the House when the regular session convened in January.
It promptly died in the Senate, where lawmakers showed little interest in its plan to borrow $861 million to put building trades back to work. Senators were right to be leery: Debt payments on that $861 million would come from the general fund, which is in a hole and projected to remain that way for the next few years.
But now, with lawmakers scrambling for something more than tax increases to show for their time in Olympia, Dunshee’s legislation is getting a second look. On Tuesday, the House voted again to send the measure to the Senate, where it’s getting if not a warm reception at least a friendlier one.
The Senate should trust its instincts. Dunshee’s plan is ill-timed and a potential threat to the state’s fiscal health.
Start with the timing: This jobs program doesn’t start creating jobs until 2011, a full year after the state’s economist predicts Washington will hit its peak unemployment and about the time when the construction industry is expected to begin its recovery.
The bulk of the $861 million investments in energy efficiency upgrades at public facilities would happen after 2012. Dunshee estimates that his legislation would employ 6,000 people a year – a meager and belated lifeline for a construction industry that’s shed 60,000 jobs.
Then there’s the risk, not just to other state programs supported by the general fund but also to other capital projects.
Washington is already bumping up against its constitutional debt limit. Lawmakers would have to ask voters in November for approval to get around that limit. The effect, according to the bill’s official fiscal note, could be to ruin the state’s credit rating.
“The increased general obligation bond issuance potentially raises the cost of all capital funding by the state as the state’s bond rating would likely suffer from additional debt of this magnitude,” the fiscal note says. “Washington’s per capita debt load is now roughly twice the national average.”
Supporters seem to dismiss such concerns. They argue that the sales tax revenue from the green projects will hold the general fund harmless for the next four years.
Such arguments have done little to reassure the likes of the governor, state treasurer and Senate. But determined to pass something, they are looking for a new revenue source to pay off the bonds. A bump in the state utility tax is reportedly one of the options.
Another tax increase isn’t the way to convince voters that the Legislature did something for them this year. Nor is it likely to encourage growth in employment sectors that were responsible for the rest of the 190,000 jobs lost in Washington this recession.