In Our View: State Boosts Construction

New legislation will launch $1 billion in projects throughout Washington

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Gov. Chris Gregoire last Monday figuratively hit the nail on the head when she proclaimed: “Jobs are the way out of this recession.”Washington workers will literally hit the nail on the head as a consequence of what Gregoire did with her pen that same day. She signed a $1 billion construction bill that is expected to create 18,000 jobs. The work will affect numerous sectors of the state’s economy, most significantly education, water quality and economic development. By putting her name to the collaborative, bipartisan product of the Legislature, Gregoire sets in action a process that will use debt financing to launch numerous shovel-ready projects.

This was the proper strategy for many reasons, and we’ll start with timing. During this economic crisis, bids are relatively low, construction costs are reduced and bond rates are rock-bottom. But there’s also the need to create jobs, which as Gregoire pointed out, affects more than just the workers. “It’s those families, and what they will do to generate more in their local communities because they have a good family-wage job,” she said. “There is much in this budget to be proud of, and there is much to make our state stronger.”

That’s why the bill passed 85-13 in the House and 44-1 in the Senate. All nine legislators serving Clark County voted for the legislation, and here are three reasons that motivated such unanimity: $27.5 million in projects for the 18th Legislative District (12th highest amount among the 49 districts); $19.4 million in the 49th District; and $13.2 million in the 17th District. There was more good news elsewhere in Southwest Washington. Cowlitz County, with $47.2 million in new appropriations, ranks seventh among the state’s 39 counties.

As The Columbian reported earlier this month, among the affected local projects is the Vancouver Waterfront Park, which received $1 million for park and trail planning development. The local list also includes more than $1 million for a much-needed addition to the Clark County Skills Center, and more than $1 million for building remodeling at the Clark County Family YMCA.

Other appropriations were made in Clark County for the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad project, the Steigerwald Commerce Center in Camas/Washougal and the Centennial Industrial Park in Vancouver.

But here — and in most communities around the state — the greatest amounts were designated for collections of smaller projects involving water quality infrastructure and sewer and stormwater facilities.

Higher education saw a significant boost — $320 million — with $69.7 million directed to the University of Washington system, plus $38.8 million for the Washington State University system. Puget Sound cleanup projects received $216 million.

One complaint came from state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who is running for the U.S. Senate. According to Washington State Wire, Baumgartner claims 43 percent of the money went to the 12 districts where Democratic senators are up for re-election, while 27 percent went to the 13 districts represented by Republicans who are up for election. Gregoire dismissed the complaint and said the criteria were “shovel-ready, smart” infrastructure projects. Another compelling rebuttal to Baumgartner is offered by that combined 129-14 vote of lawmakers from both parties approving the legislation.

Depoliticizing the job-creation issue might be a difficult task. But as a result of our state’s elected officials enacting the 2012 construction bill, there’s new hope for the state’s workforce.