Opinion

Guest Opinion | State must spare job-generating account from budget ax

As dire as the state’s budget situation is, we must guard against doing more long-term economic damage by raiding the state’s job-creating Public Works Trust Fund.

Most have probably never heard of it, but we see and feel its impact every day. Established in 1985, the account provides low-interest loans and technical assistance to local governments for public works projects and infrastructure needs. Over the last 25 years, over 2,000 loans and grants totaling over $2.2 billion have been awarded, translating to over 122,000 family-wage jobs that keep our communities strong.

Grabbing this long-term investment for a short-term gain hurts our state’s economic recovery.

The account has already been reduced by a staggering $509 million since the start of the 2009-2011 budget cycle. That means less money for comprehensive plans, environmental reviews, and construction — the exact projects counties, cities and special purpose districts need to succeed.

Construction lost hundreds of jobs between September and October 2010. Why would the state want to add to the pain when economic recovery is so desperately needed? It doesn’t have to happen.

In May 2010, the trust fund board received $573 million in requests for funds. Of that amount, the board wants to approve $386 million. That investment, according to the Department of Commerce, will generate 36,000 family-wage jobs during this economic recession. Those are real dollars going to real people for a clear, public good. In addition, by keeping the fund intact, millions will be saved as small maintenance problems are addressed before they become huge problems and construction costs are reduced.

We know that difficult budget decisions have to happen, but in a state with next to double digit unemployment, it doesn’t make sense to gut this account.

As moderate Democrats in the House and Senate, we believe the Legislature should “reset” its priorities and stop or reduce government programs and agencies that do not provide a long-term benefit to our state while preserving proven investments like the Public Works Trust Fund.

We applaud the Governor for keeping this account whole in her 2011-2013 budget, and we, along with a coalition of senators and representatives, will join her to protect the fund and make job creation a top priority.

steve.hobbs@leg.wa.gov and marymargaret.haugen@leg.wa.gov.

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