New energy and land-use policies can help job growth
On Nov. 28 the Legislature will gather in Olympia for a special session to address our state’s growing budget crisis. Undoubtedly the discussion will revolve around program cuts, whether to send a tax measure to voters (an idea I strongly oppose), and reforms that will increase state government efficiency.
One topic that should not be overlooked is what state government can do—right now—to help private employers create jobs, especially in the crippled construction industry that drives our state’s economy. That is the best way to get our economy back on track, generate more revenue for needed programs, and ease the suffering felt by so many out-of-work Washingtonians.
As lead Republican on the Senate’s Environment, Water and Energy Committee, I’ve proposed and/or supported improvements to our state’s energy policies that would spur private-sector job growth in the near term. Among them:
• Improve the Initiative 937 law or temporarily suspend its provisions during periods of high unemployment. The law created by Initiative 937 in 2006 requires utility companies to buy more electricity from renewable resources, but the law doesn’t recognize hydropower—from which Washington gets 70 percent of its energy—as one of those sources. As a result, we are forced to sell our clean, inexpensive power to California, where it does count as renewable.
The Legislature should correct this critical oversight by recognizing affordable, carbon-free hydropower as a renewable resource. This is key to protecting ratepayers from skyrocketing electricity costs and recapturing Washington’s competitive advantage in attracting new employers. We should also offer credits for improving existing hydropower facilities, which would create good-paying, energy-sector jobs. Another option, short of modifying I-937, is to temporarily suspend it during periods of economic downturn and high unemployment. Last session my colleague Sen. Jerome Delvin introduced a bill to do just that. The legislation is ready to go – and lawmakers should pass it immediately.
• Delay state energy-code updates. In 2009, the Legislature passed a bill directing the State Building Code Council to adopt energy codes requiring homes and buildings constructed between 2013 and 2031 to move incrementally toward a 70 percent reduction in energy use. The council ignored the Legislature's intentions, catapulting ahead with an immediate 30 percent-reduction requirement that went into effect last January. The construction industry estimates these new requirements increase the cost of a home by up to $22,500. Why would we intentionally make building and owning a new home more costly, further slowing home construction and putting even more jobs at risk? At the very least, the council should follow the Legislature’s original intent and push back these requirements until 2013.
• Temporarily suspend impact fees by local governments, agencies, and special purpose districts. In central Puget Sound, these fees add an average of $12,000 to the cost of a home. Although costs are generally lower in our area, they still impact people’s ability to purchase a home. Temporary suspension of these fees will make homes more affordable.
• Suspend state growth-management requirements in counties with significant and persistent unemployment and require permit decisions within 90 days.
This is a critical time for the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians desperately trying to find work. While our state’s spending habits should be under the microscope in the upcoming special session, the Legislature must also do everything it can to encourage private employers to create jobs right now. Ideas like these should be considered – and passed.
Sen. Jim Honeyford is the ranking Republican on the state Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee.