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Infrastructure Bills Are In The Works

Over the past three biennia, state funding for infrastructure from the public works assistance account has been eliminated due to hundreds of millions of dollars being shifted from the account to the state general fund to balance the state budget.

Over the past three decades the public works board has provided low interest loans made possible with utility tax, solid waste tax, and real estate tax along with loan repayments.  Those taxes and loan repayments are being redirected to the state general fund.

That has led to efforts to look at the state’s role in providing funding or financing for local infrastructure investments. Several bills have been introduced and others are in development to address local infrastructure funding.

The Governor has proposed legislation, HB 1324 (Tharinger) and its companion SB 5088 (Honeyford), that would give the Housing Finance Commission the authority to issue loans to local governments for planning, acquisition, construction, repair, reconstruction, replacement, rehabilitation, or improvement of streets and roads, bridges, water systems, storm and sanitary sewage systems, solid waste facilities, including recycling facilities, and other municipal projects, facilities, and utilities.

Two nearly identical bills, HB 1051 (DeBolt) and SB 5033 (Keiser), provide for the sale of state bonds to benefit from state borrowing power to provide the best market rate for local agencies seeking financing.  The bills allow funding for safe and adequate drinking water; collect, manage, and treat wastewater and storm water; safe and efficient transportation, including public parking facilities, public transit facilities, and nonmotorized transportation; provide or renovate facilities for safe and readily accessible recreation; provide flood control and floodplain management facilities and improvements; provide water supply improvements and water basin management enhancements, including culvert replacement projects to improve fish passage; provide or renovate county or city criminal justice facilities; provide or renovate fire protection or emergency medical response services facilities; or provide or renovate public library facilities.  These bills also require constitutional amendments to make them effective.

A third proposal has been developed by the Association of Washington Cities and is expected to be introduced soon.  Their bill expands authority of the public works board to provide grants in addition to loans, and provides lower interest loans depending on number of rate payers.  Their bill also establishes a value added process review and provides for a system improvement team to look at system improvements based on a variety of measures.

Rep. Tharinger, House Capital Budget Committee Chair, has indicated a desire to work with all the proposals to find a solution that everyone can support.  A key question is whether taxes and/or loan repayments diverted to the state general fund will be part of that solution.

Bills are expected to be heard starting with the Governor’s proposed legislation being heard on 1/24 in the House Capital Budget Committee.

Stay tuned as more infrastructure legislation progresses.