OLYMPIA – In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington lawmakers are taking action to stimulate local economies and protect those hit hardest. The Washington STRONG Act, developed by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, and Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, enables new financing tools that will stimulate the economy and create jobs, transition to a clean energy economy, and fund investments that benefit families, businesses, and communities across Washington.
Washington STRONG authorizes a 10-year series of “green” bonds, which could unlock more than $16 billion for direct investment and has the potential to create upwards of 150,000 jobs by providing much-needed local stimulus with a focus on rural economic development and frontline communities. These recovery bonds will be financed by a per-ton price on carbon, imposed once at the time and place of the first sale or use. The proposal has been carefully constructed to minimize the impact on agricultural sectors, moderate and low-income households, and energy intensive and trade exposed businesses. Washington STRONG will generate a sustainable funding stream needed to finance a resilient recovery and transition Washington to a clean economy.
“Washington state is facing an economic crisis, and we have the choice to use progressive revenue to grow our economy by investing in green infrastructure and clean transportation projects that put people to work and build a climate-resilient future,” said Lekanoff. “This economic policy is based on our state’s needs right now, one that puts our frontline communities and environmental justice first, instead of increasing inequity and placing the burden on our most impacted communities.”
“As we lead the recovery effort for the people of Washington in the wake of the pandemic, we must also prioritize the health of our natural environment,” said Lovelett. “We are building on the tremendous work of our colleagues and making a deep commitment to the health of our communities. Now is the time to build a Washington that will work to solve past harms, help our economy rebound, and make much-needed investments around the state to ensure resiliency and jobs for future generations.”
The proposal marks critical innovation and collaboration heading into what is sure to be a challenging legislative session where lawmakers will be tasked with addressing the compounding crises of the coronavirus, the economy, climate change, and racial justice; all of which serve to further increase economic disparities and social inequities. Washington STRONG would move forward in conjunction with the HEAL Act, which will be introduced again by Lekanoff and Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle. The HEAL Act directs state agencies to prioritize underserved communities and address historical inequities in public spending decisions.
“Communities facing pollution and climate impacts are too often Black, Indigenous, and people of color, we live and work on the frontlines, holding up Washington state’s economy. That’s why we are building a movement towards a just transition to a sustainable and resilient economy that meets our needs without digging, dumping, and burning fossil fuels. We stand with our legislators that recognize success for everyone in our state starts with accountability to communities most impacted,” said Rosalinda Guillen, farm worker and rural justice leader and Co-Lead of the Front and Centered Community Council. Front and Centered is a statewide, community-driven coalition working to achieve environmental justice by asserting policy solutions that center equity.
“Frontline communities continue to be victim of a pollution-based economy. We need bold policy that protects our people and supports clean environments for our people to work and call home. Lekanoff continues to be a champion for environmental justice and this bill is the best and only policy that reflects the voices of our people,” said Edgar Franks, Director of Familias Unidas por La Justicia, an independent union of indigenous families located in Burlington, WA, representing 800 farm worker members in the Skagit and Whatcom County communities.
The legislators are working closely with fellow lawmakers, state agencies, NGOs, tribal and local governments, scientists, policy experts, economists, financial institutions, landowners, and community groups to introduce a bill that ensures all of Washington moves forward together.
“My constituents want economic recovery,” said Shewmake. “Everyone does. But the last time we had a recession, the federal government did not provide enough relief to rebuild our communities. Washington state needs new tools to recover from the current recession and the Washington STRONG Act is one of those tools. With Washington STRONG, the economic recovery can start in rural areas and frontline communities, with family-wage jobs, using science and evidence to make investments that get people back to work, and provide market-based incentives to transition to a greener economy. This is a model for states to invest in both infrastructure for the clean energy transition as well as create lasting economic growth for everyone.”
Dr. Ioana Marinescu, Assistant Professor of Economics at The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created massive job loss and business difficulties. Stimulus is urgently needed to revive the economy. Investing in a green future is an economically rational thing to do. A bond allows for such investment at a time when the stimulus is most needed to support Washington’s economy. A future tax on pollution reinforces the commitment to a green future. It provides the needed revenue to back the bond and start creating jobs and supporting businesses in Washington today.”
A key function of Washington STRONG is the integration of science-based investment criteria that deliver measurable climate benefits while maximizing economic and social benefits to communities. These investments would help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, create tens of thousands of family-wage jobs, generate an average of $6 in savings for every $1 invested, generate local spending returns of 175% on the dollar, and boost local tax revenues to support critical community services that are in dire need of additional funding.
“We cannot afford to wait, and we can’t accept business as usual in the face of this crisis. Washingtonians need bold leadership and new thinking that meets the moment and puts people first. These legislators have met this enormous challenge with a visionary plan that checks all the boxes by pairing a strong recovery with a just transition to a clean economy,” said Jessie Martin, Executive Director of Carbon Washington.