Important Questions to Ask about Referendum 52

This election, citizens in Washington will consider Referendum 52, a $500 million bond measure to fund energy retrofits on public buildings. Voters should consider several key questions as they cast their ballots: ● Will the measure create or kill jobs? ● Will savings be greater than costs? ● Will we improve the learning environment of our schools? ● Should we ignore other education needs to fund this project? R-52’s sponsors promise the measure will create new jobs and improve the health of schools by providing grants aimed at reducing energy costs. A closer review, however, shows R-52 is unlikely to live up to these promises, and will cost taxpayers a total of $937 million over the life of the bonds.

This election, citizens in Washington will consider Referendum 52, a $500 million bond measure to fund energy retrofits on public buildings. Voters should consider several key questions as they cast their ballots:

● Will the measure create or kill jobs?

● Will savings be greater than costs?

● Will we improve the learning environment of our schools?

● Should we ignore other education needs to fund this project?

R-52’s sponsors promise the measure will create new jobs and improve the health of schools by providing grants aimed at reducing energy costs. A closer review, however, shows R-52 is unlikely to live up to these promises, and will cost taxpayers a total of $937 million over the life of the bonds.

All too often, government-subsidized programs fail to deliver on their promises. Proponents claim R-52 will create 30,000 jobs by leveraging an additional $1.5 billion in spending, claiming 16 jobs will be created for every $1 million spent. However, the measure does not include verification to show the public what jobs are actually created.

In fact, R-52’s jobs projections are so questionable a Superior Court Judge struck language from the ballot title claiming the measure would create jobs.

Additionally, proponents ignore jobs lost when funding is taken from the private sector or other potential public sector projects. In Spain, researchers found government spending on “green” projects killed 2.2 jobs for every one it created.

R-52’s sponsors also claim improving energy efficiency would save the state $126 million annually, saying such projections are reliable because they are “guaranteed” by companies performing energy retrofits.

Such claims are based on generic projections that often do not consider a range of real-world performance factors. This isn’t to say that all projects would fail to provide savings. Undoubtedly some projects make sense. Many others do not.

The state’s General Administration (GA) Web site on Energy Saving Performance Based Contracting highlighted several “success stories” showing energy savings. Unfortunately for taxpayers, state officials removed these energy “success stories” from the Web site after we requested data to support the claims. GA simply sent an e-mail admitting that they didn’t have any evidence for claimed energy savings.

An audit of a similar program by the federal Department of Energy found many projects did not achieve the promised savings, and overall, projects actually cost more than they saved.

Proponents also say R-52 would improve the health of schools, making them better places to learn.

Health projects, however, are not included in the referendum’s funding criteria. School districts and universities would be awarded grants based on projected energy savings and whether a project is “shovel ready.”

Because improving health is not a priority, school districts facing serious health problems in their buildings may receive no funding from Referendum 52.

While research shows R-52 would likely fall short of job creation and energy savings projections, there are real risks from adding nearly $1 billion to Washington’s debt. R-52 would push the state beyond our constitutional debt limit and could harm the state’s credit rating. This is like maxing the state’s credit card, making it difficult to borrow in the future. Whatever future budget problems the state faces, R-52 would make it more costly to borrow to prevent cuts to education, environment, health care or other essential state and safety net programs.

As voters decide the fate of R-52 they should consider that job creation and energy savings would likely be far less than proponents claim, that schools with serious health problems would likely receive little or no funding and the state’s credit rating would be put at risk. In the end is adding another $937 million in debt really worth it?

[flipp]

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