Our Voice: Senate revitalization bill needs House companion

When a state program spawns new business, adds hundreds of jobs and provides the state treasury a three-fold return on the investment, it’s a program worth doing again.

That’s the logic the city of Kennewick hopes state legislators will follow when they consider local revitalization financing legislation. The bill being proposed will provide a financing mechanism similar to the one used to spur develop in the Southridge area of Kennewick. This time, the city wants to use it for the redevelopment of Vista Field.

As the city sets is legislative priorities for 2016, this one, rightfully, is at the top of the list.

State Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick and former city councilwoman, sponsored just such a bill this year but it died before reaching a public hearing. A companion House bill never made it out of committee.

It’s worth trying again.

In the case of Southridge, the city has received $500,000 annually since 2010 to help pay off the bonds used to build infrastructure. The money comes from property and sales taxes generated in the district.

In the first five years of that funding, 19 new businesses opened and 176 new jobs were created at Southridge. For its $2.5 million investment during that time, the state reaped $9 million in state sales and use taxes. The city collected $3 million. You do the math.

City leaders are clear that the state funding is not the only reason development of Southridge has taken off but it was a solid building block when the area was nothing more than sagebrush and sand.

The redevelopment of Vista Field is a massive undertaking and the kind of project that can become a phenomenal asset for the region or one that can stall, linger and founder for lack of money and vision.

The vision is already being formed. Making it into reality is another matter. And that’s where money matters.

Brown was on the right path when she drafted a bill that would have allowed cities to apply for funding for new projects. But as with all things that require state spending, the bill fell victim to the state’s top priority — to find a way to fund basic education as ordered by the state Supreme Court.

The solution to that problem remains unresolved. But progress must still take place on other fronts. Our state can’t come to a standstill while our legislators try to sort it out.

Another key change proposed by Brown would be to remove the “first-come, first-served” system for awarding money. Her bill would create a competitive process, based on a project’s impacts and merits. The 113-acre Vista Field development would be a clear winner in both regards.

Brown has been marketing her idea to key players in the off-season and plans to have a hearing before the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee next year. What she also needs is a strong companion bill in the House, and one of our local representatives needs to pick up that challenge.