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The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Infrastructure Reform Advances in the Washington State legislature

February 22nd, 2017 · 2 Comments · --Integrated Systems--

tedBy Ted Sturdevant – Center for Sustainable Infrastructure

First-of-its-kind legislation incorporating the new infrastructure investment tools promoted by CSI is advancing early in the 2017 Washington Legislature.

Northwest infrastructure agencies and utilities spend billions of dollars on our behalf every year to operate, maintain, and rebuild vital infrastructure. These water, transportation, energy, and waste cycling systems keep our economy and our communities working. Countless spending decisions by hundreds of local infrastructure agencies add up to enormous, enduring impact on Northwest communities, for the next generation and beyond.

Are we getting the best possible return-on-investment from this annual spending? Are our infrastructure ‘financial managers’ getting the most bang-for-the-buck in long-term value – financial, environmental, and social – for our communities? Are investment decisions guided by a coherent strategy that aims to build world-class, high-performance infrastructure? At CSI, on each of these questions, we believe there is significant room to improve the system and get the most out of infrastructure investments.

State policymakers can help in wide-ranging ways: they set policy, offer incentives, create rules and regulate performance, manage or invest directly in infrastructure systems, convene multi-agency partnerships to jointly fund programs, and more.

Washington’s legislature is right now considering legislation that takes an important first step to adopt a leaner, smarter infrastructure investment discipline. HB 1677, for example, charges a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional “system improvement team” with pursuing a specific set of smart investment objectives. The bill also establishes a policy advisory team consisting of 4 legislators and the Governor’s budget director to work with the system improvement team over the next two years.

HB 1667, sponsored by Rep.  Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds was heard February 14th in the House Capital Budget Committee.  An identical “companion” bill, SB 5496 has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

Several bills on infrastructure have been introduced this session, offering a variety of roles the state might play.  While it’s too early to say what direction the legislature will go, it is CSI’s hope that whatever approach they land on, they include HB 1667’s process to make infrastructure programs work better and smarter.  By adopting early “value planning” that looks at all options before defaulting to traditional infrastructure, and by building long-term resilience and sustainability into project designs, we can maximize public value and minimize costs as we build the infrastructure of the 21st century.

Events at the legislature are unfolding quickly; here is an update from Friday, February 24th.

As we’ve reported, CSI has been convening a coalition called the Future of Washington Infrastructure group (FWI), and those discussions led to a vision for a “Public Works Trust Fund 2.0.”  That vision then informed the introduction of HB 1677, which provides new tools to the Public Works Board and creates a process for improving the system of infrastructure programs dealing with drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.  HB 1677 was heard in the House Capital Budget Committee on Feb. 14.  On Feb. 23, CSI was invited to participate in a meeting convened by Rep. Beth Doglio, vice chair of the committee, to work on a revised version of the bill.

We’re happy to report that the House does plan to advance a revised version of the bill, and that there is strong support for an ongoing Public Works program, and for the reforms advocated by CSI – reforms that would make the system smarter, more efficient, better coordinated and that would result in more sustainable, resilient and affordable infrastructure projects.  The modified bill will contain those provisions, and according to the committee chair, will be considered “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB), which means that the bill is exempt from legislative cutoff dates.  The bill likely won’t move forward until the House is ready to move its overall budget proposal.

It was exciting to see the legislature engaged in a substantive conversation on how to make the system work better.  In the meeting, one person who runs a state infrastructure program, said “in the 12 years I’ve been doing this, we’ve never had this opportunity to talk to legislators about the barriers we face.

We applaud legislators for their efforts, and all the stakeholders who have put this proposal together.  We’ll wait to see the next draft of the bill, and while there is plenty of work to be done, we are encouraged by the support we’re seeing for improving the system.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Kathleen Saul

    Thanks for the legislative update. Understanding the bills facing our state Congress and how our legislators stand on them is more critical now than ever. I joined students at the Capitol yesterday to learn about how to approach Senators and Representatives and present “elevator speeches” about various bills in play. The one BIG push-back we heard was that funding education took top priority this session. And second priority. And third priority. Let’s hope other priorities, like sustainable infrastructure, renewable energy, and the like also find their way through the web of government.

    • carrollt

      Yes, it’s definitely a struggle to get anything passed right now. Luckily the bill described in this article actually doesn’t have a huge impact on the budget(? at least based on my understanding of it). We’re hoping that sustainable infrastructure principles get embedded into the decision-making process as an outcome of whatever version of an infrastructure bill gets passed anyway.

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