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Published on Friday, April 14, 2017

Saving the Public Works Trust Fund is within our grasp

On Wednesday April 12 the House passed SB 5033 which makes changes to the Public Works Trust Fund program (PWTF) reflecting the reforms developed by AWC and a coalition of other PWTF advocates. The bill also includes a two-year extension of the tax revenue diversions that have been in place for several years. Leaving the diversions in place through 2021 is necessary in order to move forward without blowing a hole in the state operating budget. Even with the diversions the proposal leaves the loan repayment dollars and a portion of real estate excise taxes going into the account for infrastructure loans.

We are at a crossroads with the Public Works Trust Fund. Coming into the session, we faced the very real possibility of all tax revenues and loan repayments being permanently diverted and the program shutting down for good. To avoid that, we pursued a series of tough reforms acknowledging what we were hearing from the Senate: that the account needed to focus on the smaller communities and that we would not be able to claw back all of the tax revenue streams in the short-term.

Highlights of SB 5033 as passed in the House:

  • Focuses more resources on cities under 50,000 in population.
  • Authorizes new tools like grants and interest rate buy downs.
  • Promotes efficiency tools like value planning to ensure the most cost effective projects get built.
  • Adds legislators to the membership of the Public Works Board to help build more commitment to the program.
  • Institutes an interagency LEAN process to recommend improvements to all state infrastructure funding programs.
  • Removes the requirement that the legislature approve the list of loans recommended by the Public Works Board.
  • Despite focusing utility project support on smaller communities, this proposal still affords larger communities access to better interest rates for transportation projects, as well as 25-50 percent of market rate loans for utility-backed projects (e.g. water sewer, stormwater).

If we were the only ones in charge, this bill would read differently. What is on the table however is undoubtedly better than the alternative of a mothballed program with all revenues permanently diverted. The replacement for the PWTF as outlined in the version of SB 5033 that passed the Senate would have only made it simpler to access market-rate loans and nothing more. It is time to fight for the best we can get.

In combination with funding provided in both proposed capital budgets, final passage of the House version of SB 5033 would effectively revive the Public Works Trust Fund. We are close to that outcome but a crucial step now is to get the Senate to concur in the House's striking amendment.

Please contact your Senator(s) now and urge them to concur on the House-passed version of SB 5033, and ask them to encourage their budget leaders to do so.

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