A bill that could have helped provide money to jump start the redevelopment of Kennewick’s Vista Field is dead — at least for this legislative session.
But state Sen. Sharon Brown, a former Kennewick councilwoman, said she won’t give up trying to resurrect a pilot program Kennewick used to drive the development of the Southridge area.
Brown said the death of the bill was frustrating, but she knew it would be difficult because of the tough budget decisions on the Legislature’s to-do list.
Legislators are under the gun to find a way to fully fund K-12 education as ordered by the Washington State Supreme Court in what is commonly called the McCleary decision.
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And her bill had a cost attached to it. The bill proposed making $5 million more in state money available to a state local revitalization financing program.
That would have allowed local governments to submit new projects, with the most competitive chosen for the program. The money would first be available in fiscal year 2018.
The Port of Kennewick’s Vista Field redevelopment project was suggested as a potential project. City of Kennewick officials helped lobby for the bill, explaining to legislators how well the program worked for the Southridge area.
For that project, the city approved a $13.7 million bond for work on Southridge and Hildebrand boulevards, Plaza Way and Ridgeline Drive and to finish the second phase of the Southridge Sports & Events Complex.
The port, Benton County and the Kennewick Public Hospital District also made the project possible by helping pay the bond debt using some of new tax revenues they are receiving from Southridge development.
So far, Southridge has brought in 16 new businesses and added almost 100 new full-time jobs, according to city officials.
Last year, the state received $4.9 million in sales tax from the Southridge area and sent back $500,000 to help pay the debt service on the city bonds.
The bill, Senate Bill 5109, was referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee, but the committee did not take it to a public hearing. House Bill 1648, sponsored by Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, and others, went to a public hearing in the House Finance Committee, but has not been brought up for a vote.
Brown said she was met with some skepticism over the economic benefit to the state. Some were concerned about the potential of having to bail out other cities, and some didn’t understand how the mechanism worked.
Development has to happen before the state would kick in any money, she said.
Brown plans to continue to educate her fellow legislators, including bringing some of them and agency directors to tour Kennewick’s Southridge area. She’s already done similar tours for some of her colleagues.
Brown is hopeful that with some more work, she can get the local revitalization program rebooted next session.
“The good thing about it is that these bills stay alive for two years,” Brown said. That means next session, she could resurrect the bill or choose to sponsor a new one.
While Kennewick was used as a poster child, Brown said it isn’t the only community that would benefit. “It is a great economic development tool,” she said.
Brown said she’s still hopeful that two of her other economic development bills will be able to make it through this session. Both “Invest in Washington Act” bills are still in play after being discussed last week in public hearings in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
Both would set up pilot programs. In one, manufacturers that expand or open a Washington plant could use the returned portion of their business and occupation tax to offset the project cost, she said.
In another, manufacturers who make investments in worker training could use the deferred portion of their sales tax to reinvest in additional career and technical training for employees.
Both Senate Bills 5230 and 5112 have a cost to the state, which could keep them from becoming law this session.