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Lowering debt limit would kill 70,000 jobs

By Rep. Hans Dunshee

Jobs is a good word. Debt is rightly a nasty word as Congress wrestles with the national deficit. But our state of Washington is much different from Washington, D.C.

Senate Joint Resolution 8215 proposes to reduce state spending, but it would chop the available state construction bonds by half.

It would kill 70,000 construction jobs over the next decade, almost as much work as the Boeing tanker deal will bring to our state in the same period.

It would also hurt our ability to replace aging schools, build prisons, develop parks or repair leaking sewer lines, all in the name of reducing debt service by 0.86 percent, which would be more than made up for by the economic growth of job creation.

We must balance our state budget, and we will. This is not Washington, D.C.

Of the $32 billion budget, our state spends about 6 percent of all income paying the mortgage on all public schools and colleges, water and sewer plants, prisons and parks. This is even with what most businesses spend on rent or mortgage. The average American family spends 34 percent on housing. The federal government borrows 40 percent of spending now.

Washington state’s debt is small. Our bond rating is stable and next to the best possible.

As a percent of the state economy, our debt service is about 4.6 percent while the national average for states is 6.1 percent.

As a backstop, we have a solid constitutional debt limit of 9 percent that can’t be amended.

The state treasurer recently did a “Debt Affordability Study” that says on page 39 that our “debt ratio will stabilize or decline.”

Killing more jobs isn’t the way to improve our economy or the state budget.

Here’s how you improve our economy: by putting private-sector people and companies to work building schools, colleges, sewer plants and parks.

Workers spend money in local stores. The economy grows and state revenue goes up for teachers and nurses, without raising taxes or cutting more services.

A job is more than meat and potatoes on the kitchen table. It’s pride. It’s standing on your own two feet to provide for your family and buy shoes for your kids and paint at the hardware store down the block.

The construction industry has been hit hard. Unemployment for construction workers is 30 percent in Western Washington and 50 percent in Eastern Washington.

Those are Depression-era numbers. Apocalyptic. The hardest-hit are guys and gals who work with saws, shovels and nail guns. They live in your neighborhood. They didn’t ruin our economy with crazy Wall Street deals. All they want is to work hard and build things for our communities

The state Senate proposal is meant to reduce spending. Yet it would make future legislatures use “payday loan” financing, costing taxpayers more — or shifting the responsibility to local government, which would be forced to raise property taxes to build what’s needed.

Smart investments in public schools, colleges and parks make our state a beautiful place to live, work and raise a family.

Our kids and grandkids need schools and colleges and parks. If they’re going to have them, we need to get people back to work, pouring cement and hammering nails.

It would be a mistake to kill 70,000 construction jobs and shortchange the next generation for the sake of a good idea gone wrong.

Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-44th) chairs the House Capital Budget Committee.


This opinion column originally appeared in the May 6 edition of the Seattle Times and is reprinted with the permission of the author.

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