Lawmaker pushes job creation plan

A Snohomish County lawmaker says he wants to put a public-works bond proposal on the November ballot to create as many as 40,000 jobs in public-school and government-building renovations.

“The bonds would be $850 million, and you could possibly create $2.5 billion in work, about 40,000 jobs,” Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee said Friday, describing a proposal less than half the size of his similar plan that stalled in the 2009 legislative session.

Dunshee has likened his proposal to the federal Works Progress Administration projects that helped provide jobs late during the Great Depression and said: “We’ve got to do something besides just balance the budget. We’ve got to do something about the jobs and the economy.”

The concept, which still is being built, is under review by the governor’s budget office and other lawmakers; some of them are skeptical.

“I’d want to think a little more about it,” said Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, who is worried about the size of the state’s debt. “I’d be a little leery of doing that at this time.”

Dunshee would use savings from energy-efficiency projects on schools and other public buildings to pay for part of the bonds. Sales taxes from the construction projects would pay the remaining bond interest in the first few years.

Last year’s plan got hung up on concerns from state Treasurer Jim McIntire and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who thought the state’s bond rating would suffer from any bond proposal larger than $1 billion. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objected, saying it would drain general-fund coffers needed for basic education and health care at a time when the economic recovery could take years.

But Dunshee said his smaller plan covers the bond-debt obligations in the first few years without adding liability to the general fund.

“I think it’s a creative approach to things,” said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, who writes the Senate capital budget. But Fraser said she could not endorse it without seeing more details, and she raised the possibility that other lawmakers might fight over how funds are spent.

“Is it green retrofitting of schools, is it new schools, is it higher-education buildings, is it local government infrastructure?” Fraser asked.

At the same time, Fraser said, voter-approved bonds such as the one Dunshee proposes would not be subject to the constitutional debt limit that is hampering the capital budget. That limit already is causing lawmakers to consider canceling some projects already approved in their most recent session.

Treasurer McIntire said he wants to see more details to be convinced it would work, but he added that using energy savings as a revenue stream is a good idea to look into. He also said he thinks Dunshee’s goal might be achieved sooner and without a ballot measure – perhaps by doing some of the projects using federal-backed debt capacity available through President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package.

Dunshee’s previous proposal, known as House Bill 2334, would have sent $2 billion to public school districts for modernization, energy efficiencies and catching up on a backlog of maintenance. An additional $500 million would have paid for energy upgrades on public buildings. The rest would have been split among universities.

Dunshee said chances of passing the bond proposal are much better in 2010, and that House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, wants “to pop it out the first week of the session (and) over to the Senate.”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688