A year ago I started writing about energy efficiency and schools. One of the first things I wrote about was legislation proposed by Washington State Representative Hans Dunshee. Finally, the legislature formed a compromise measure based on Dunshee’s efforts from last session, which authorizes $500 million in bonds for retrofits and uses an extension of the tax on bottled water for debt service.
Last night, the bill passed both houses of the legislature and is on its way to the Governor for her signature, despite ups and downs throughout the session.
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One issue that arose was the possible impact the policy might have on the State’s bond rating. Sightline published a policy memo, “Saving Money, Supporting Schools,” arguing that Dunshee’s bill would save money and create jobs, but would have minimal effect on Washington’s bond rating. That memo—along with this key chart—helped make the case that the bond rating wouldn’t be affected negatively and kept the discussion about broadly-shared benefits like green job creation, energy efficiency, and long-term investments in public schools.
The legislation as passed will give schools and other public facilities access to financing for much-needed retrofits to aging buildings—improvements that will save both energy and public money. Importantly, the savings stay in the school districts where they can give a boost to districts that are facing serious budget shortfalls. The bill stipulates that the retrofit work will be done according to the well-tested principles of performance contracting, which ensures that projects will receive funding based on their proven ability to generate real energy savings.
Because the bill uses revenues bonds—bonds with a dedicated source of revenue—any concerns about the bill’s effects on the State’s credit rating should be completely allayed. And all the benefits of the original bill—money savings for schools, improved health for students and staff, savings for the school construction fund, reduced carbon emissions, and jobs—are still intact.
But all the work is not done. The next step is the campaign! The legislation requires a vote of the people to approve the issuance of the bonds and the revenue source to pay for them. Stay tuned for more information and discussion this summer as the election gears up.
Final exam photo courtesy of Flickr user dcjohn under a Creative Commons license.