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Sen. Kilmer’s plan: ‘Ingenious job creation in hard times’

The following editorial, regarding the Infrastructure Jobs Bond, appeared Jan. 29 in The (Tacoma) News Tribune:

A genuinely good idea tends to pop out from among the nondescript crowd of been-theres and done-thats. State Sen. Derek Kilmer’s proposal to create jobs without new taxes looks like that kind of idea.

The Gig Harbor Democrat – an economic development specialist who plays down his Oxford doctorate – knows that government best builds the economy by building infrastructure. Such things as sewers, water lines, highways, ports, schools – the necessary foundations of private businesses.

With tentative support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, Kilmer is proposing legislation that would – this gets complicated – finance major job-creating projects with bonds backed by tax revenues already flowing into two existing state funds.

The funds pay for major public works improvements and environmental protection projects. They are replenished with taxes collected from utilities, solid waste operations, and companies that market pesticides and other hazardous substances.

Kilmer would divert relatively small side streams from those incoming taxes to finance revenue bonds that would immediately raise hundreds of millions of dollars for projects already planned but not yet funded.

Port improvements and short-line railroads that could expand state exports, for example, or restoration of polluted Tideflats land that companies would love to move into.

The idea would simultaneously deal with multiple issues:

Unemployment and recession. The construction work would create temporary jobs; more important, the completed infrastructure would help spawn private investment and permanent jobs.

State debt. Washington’s stricken operating budget is saddled by interest payments to the tune of $1 billion a year. The Legislature cannot afford more general obligation bonds, but Kilmer’s revenue bonds would not impact the operating budget.

Construction costs. In boom times, when the state can best afford to invest, labor is tight and supplies are expensive. In bad times – when the state can’t afford much – labor is plentiful and costs are lower. The revenue bonds would let the state buy construction when the price is right.

Interest rates. They are extraordinarily low now; they’ll only get higher as projects wait for conventional funding.

Long-term jobs. This isn’t spending for the sake of paying construction workers; the idea is to create permanent infrastructure – including classrooms – to help the economy flourish in the future. The immediate construction work is a sweet byproduct, though.

Jobs. No new taxes. Economic stimulus. Historic bargains on construction. It’s hard to see a downside here.

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