Abbarno bill would invest in rural infrastructure projects

A measure that would create the Rural Infrastructure Assistance Account to provide grants to local governments in rural counties is scheduled for a public hearing Jan. 27 in the House Community and Economic Development Committee.

House Bill 1263, authored by newly-elected Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, would create the Rural Infrastructure Assistant Account.

“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,” said Abbarno. “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. 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,” said Abbarno. “Rural communities like mine in the 20th District need strong bones and updated infrastructure to be able to grow and prosper. This bill addresses that problem and focuses on creating regional opportunities, rather than the failed piecemeal approach of the past.”

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. Abbarno says 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 persons per square mile or counties smaller than 225 square miles — in other words, rural areas in the state.

“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 Wednesday, Jan. 27, 10 a.m. in the House Community and Economic Development Committee.


Washington State House Republican Communications