In Our View: Unleash LIFT Potential

Legislators should extend deadline for projects such as Library Square

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Recommended reading for legislators as they move deeper into their special session would be Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1306. Admittedly not the most captivating title, but the document offers great benefits to several cities including Vancouver.

The bill extends the construction deadline for developers to qualify for Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) funding. In Vancouver, such an extension would help the Library Square project, which would provide significant relief to ongoing parking problems at the main library.

Among the reasons special-session passage of this bill should be expedited are the following:

It already has passed in both chambers, and by impressively wide margins: 45-2 in the state Senate and 81-16 in the House. Differences in the two versions, however, have required the bill to be revisited, and both legislative bodies will need to vote on a compromise. (No legislator from the three main districts that serve Clark County opposed the measure in either chamber.)

Approval of this measure is necessary for the survival of the LIFT program, an excellent funding mechanism that magnifies the power of state investments in local economic-development projects. After passing rigorous review and accepting strict measurement standards, these projects acquire state subsidies backed by the strength of estimated future tax revenues.

In Vancouver, completing the original Library Square plan (which includes apartments, office and retail spaces and an underground parking garage) is projected to yield $22.7 million for the state in tax revenues over the next 25 years.

Additionally, the city of Vancouver would see tax revenues grow by almost $8 million over that quarter of a century. During that time, Library Square could produce an estimated $6 million for Vancouver Public Schools and $2.3 million in tax revenue for Clark County.

Thus, it's easy to see how multiple stakeholders are so solidly behind the LIFT program in general and, in Vancouver, the Library Square project. Granted, these tax revenues are estimates, and risk is involved. But not enough risk, in our view and in the more-informed view of economic-development experts, to ignore the LIFT potential.

Part of that investment risk manifested itself a few years after the LIFT program began in 2006. But now, the Great Recession is over, and early signs of recovery are evident. Those multiple signals are strong enough to (1) retain faith in LIFT and (2) extend the deadline so that several cities around the state can bolster their economic development plans.

In a Saturday Columbian story by Stevie Mathieu, Killian Pacific President Lance Killian said, "We remain fully committed to the vision of Library Square and will continue to think creatively and work diligently to make it happen. But the project is subject to market forces and conditions to occupy the buildings that would be constructed."

To refuse to be nimble enough to accommodate these market conditions would be extremely foolish on the Legislature's part. Let's get this done, again, in the special session.