House committee’s bipartisan vote advances Abbarno’s rural infrastructure bill

The House Community and Economic Development Committee approved a bill Friday sponsored by Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, that would invest in infrastructure projects in rural and distressed communities.

House Bill 1263 would establish a competitive grant program to support local infrastructure projects, such as broadband, sewer, storm water, transmission, and more.

“Successful economic developments start with infrastructure. If a community wants to create housing inventory, create jobs, or expand broadband access, it starts with infrastructure,” said Abbarno. “The bill expands and extends the successful SYNC – System Improvement Team Program and encourages regional planning with a 'dig once' philosophy.”

The original bill was substituted with language that expands eligible applicants, including tribes, businesses, and local governments, and increases preconstruction funding to $1 million for any jurisdiction per biennium.

“In this pandemic when so many people are working from home and children are attending school online from their parents' kitchen table, we've realized how critical broadband infrastructure is to our economy and the education of our young people,” noted Abbarno. “The need for access to reliable, high-speed broadband in our rural areas is just as important as the higher populated areas of the state. This bill would help to close those gaps.”

The bill also calls for grant applications to meet certain policy objectives, such as creation of new family-wage jobs, avoidance of shifting existing jobs from one community to another, fostering economic development, enhancement of health and safety, and reduction in the overall cost of public infrastructure.

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 to provide grants up to $10 million per biennium for local governments in rural counties for public facilities.

“This bill will help start and finish projects that make a real difference in our communities,” said Abbarno. “It also creates jobs at a time when we need them the most. I'm very pleased this bill is moving forward for our rural communities.”

The measure now goes to the House Capital Budget Committee for further consideration.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov