The “JOBS Act” passed in the recently concluded Washington State legislative session will appear on the November ballot as Referendum 52. The legislation established a $505 million bond sale distributed as competitive grants for energy efficiency projects at public K-12 schools and public colleges and universities. The debt service on the bond is to be paid by a continuation on the sales tax on bottled water (which would otherwise expire in 2013). Since the bond size would exceed the state’s current debt limit, a vote of the people is necessary to make it a reality.
NEEC has joined a coalition of business, labor, school, university, and environmental interests (a coalition that is likely to grow) to work on passage of Referendum 52 – called Healthy Schools for Washington. A kick-off to the campaign was recently held at Chief Sealth High School in Seattle. An emphasis is being placed on how energy efficiency retrofits of school buildings can improve the overall health of the indoor environment AND save school districts money through lowering operating costs. A campaign web site has been developed (www.healthyschoolsforwa.org) and donations to the statewide campaign are being actively solicited.
If enacted, this bond measure would create a $2B energy efficiency construction market over the next 3 to 5 years across the state. The potential benefits of this market will cut across a wide swath of the energy efficiency industry. Opposition to Referendum 52 will be organized and aggressive. Opposition messages will focus on the increase to the state’s debt limit and to the extension of a tax on bottled water. Prepare to see state by state comparisons of per capita debt that show Washington’s to be above the national average. Anti-tax messages will likely also be prevalent.
For the energy efficiency industry, the benefits from such a large new market are clear and compelling. For a state with a devastated job picture, especially in the construction industry, the bill offers opportunity for 30,000 new jobs – just the type the economy needs to pull itself up and out of a recessionary economy.