A measure that would update infrastructure, focus on creating jobs and housing and provide grants to local governments in rural counties was announced in a Thursday press release from state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia.
House Bill 1263, authored by Abbarno, would create the Rural Infrastructure Assistant Account, and is scheduled for a public hearing Jan. 27 in the House Community and Economic Development Committee.
“This account would provide grant funding, not a loan, for large rural infrastructure projects, so the Legislature would not be able to raid those funds during challenging budget years, as they have in the past,” Abbarno said in the press release. “It is focused on larger projects up to $10 million that would help create economic growth, such as sewer, water, stormwater, recycling facilities, broadband and other vital infrastructure.”
Abbarno, who previously served on the Centralia City Council, says rural communities are facing aging and crumbling infrastructure, and are hard-pressed to find the money to address their needs.
“Our smaller local governments are also at a disadvantage when trying to prepare for growth in their communities,” Abbarno said. “If funding becomes available for housing, but you don’t have the money for the infrastructure like sewer or water to support that housing, we then lose that opportunity for growth.
Abbarno said rural communities such as his in the 20th District need updated infrastructure to be able to grow and prosper, and his bill addresses that problem and focuses on creating regional opportunities for those smaller communities.
Traditionally, local governments have applied for low-interest loans through the state’s Public Works Assistance Account to pay for needed infrastructure. However, the Legislature has raided those funds in past years when there has been a shortfall in the state operating budget, leaving many of those communities without a method of funding local infrastructure, according to Abbarno.
Abbarno said his bill would eliminate that problem by creating a dedicated fund that would provide grants for local governments with a population density of less than 100 people per square mile, or counties smaller than 225 square miles.
“When you are in a distressed area of a county and are looking to create economic development through an infrastructure project, the last thing you want is a loan,” said Abbarno. “This would create a grant program large enough that would truly ignite growth, economic development, and important jobs.”
A public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 27, in the House Community and Economic Development Committee.
For more information, visit leg.wa.gov/House/Committees/CED/Pages/default.aspx.