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Published on Friday, January 17, 2014

Public Works Assistance Account or Public Works Trust Fund? What's in a name?

As conversations continue on how to restore funding to the Public Works Trust Fund (aka the Public Works Assistance Account) we are often asked – what should we call it when we are communicating with legislators. The answer is.... It depends.

The statute, RCW 43.155 uses the term Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA) and has since the program's creation in 1985. Until recently, the program funded through the PWAA has commonly been referred to as the Public Works Trust Fund (PWTF) and is the name that most people know. In the capital budget, both terms have been used over the years, sometimes both in the same budget. The 2013-15 capital budget is a very recent example.

There is great sensitivity to the use of both terms. For many, the name PWTF represents what the program was meant to be. When the program was created, local governments voluntarily agreed to limits on their local utility taxing authority in exchange for higher state public utility taxes to create a program that would finance local infrastructure projects. The tax revenues and continuous loan repayments would allow the program to grow and address the vast infrastructure needs of local communities.

For some legislators, the term PWTF is disingenuous because (as we've learned all too well) it is an account that can be used for other purposes. It is not a true "trust fund."

While at AWC we continue to refer to it as the PWTF, we are cautious when we speak to legislators and often use the term PWAA. Our bottom line is that cities have significant infrastructure needs and need assistance. Addressing those needs benefits the state and the economy. A name change will not change that.