Wash. Eyes $1B Stimulus Plan to Aid Construction

Fri February 24, 2012 - West Edition

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) A $1 billion stimulus plan that Washington lawmakers are now considering seeks to create construction jobs by funding a variety of infrastructure projects around the state, officials said Jan. 25.

Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee said there is a sense of urgency because of high unemployment in the construction industry. A plan he released includes funding for projects in schools, state parks and environmental management.

The Washington State Labor Council, the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Associated General Contractors of Washington are advocating for a similar plan that would be twice as large. They believe it will create thousands of jobs.

“If you want to fix the economy, fix construction,” said Rick Slunaker, a lobbyist for the Associated General Contractors.

Some Republicans expressed concerns about the idea, saying it wasn’t worth bonding for years into the future to create jobs in the short-term. They also questioned having so much focus on government-created jobs.

Washington’s unemployment rate decreased to 8.5 percent in December — the lowest in nearly three years. The number of construction jobs in the state dropped by about one-third during the recession, according to state data.

Dunshee’s proposal would borrow about $1.1 billion. His project list includes money for weatherization, energy efficiency programs, storm water improvements and the cleanup of toxic sites. It also includes $1.4 million for repairs to the state Capitol dome.

The state Senate is working on its own plan that would be of a similar size.

Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, said the package offers the state a chance to proactive. He said now is the time for the state to take advantage of low construction costs and do work that’s already in the queue.

“We can strengthen the overall economy,” he said.