R-52: The pros and cons on school remodeling plan

Voters will decide on a plan given to them by the legislature to pay for overhauling schools for health, energy efficiency, and lighting.

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Under R-52, there would be more school construction, like a Chief Sealth High project that included more natural light.

Voters will decide on a plan given to them by the legislature to pay for overhauling schools for health, energy efficiency, and lighting.

Referendum 52 is the Rube Goldberg of ballot initiatives.

Passage would mean that Washington's sales tax on bottled water will stick around after its scheduled expiration date of July 1, 2013.

Meanwhile, passage would also allow the state to borrow $505 million to pay for a lot of unglamorous public school building overhauls — repairing heat and air conditioning systems and replacing windows. All that to improve the energy efficiency of schools across the state. Also, the money would be used to remove mold, lead, asbestos and other toxins from schools.

The continuing sales tax on bottled water would be used to to pay back the $505 million over 29 years. The math on the interest puts the total payback at $937 million over those 29 years — or $32.3 million annually, according to state figures. State figures estimate that continuing the sales tax on bottled water would raise almost $40 million annually.

Just to make things more complicated, voters will get two chances on the same ballot to vote on whether to hang on to a sales tax on bottled water.

This ballot also includes Initiative 1107 — the brainchild of the American Beverage Association — which is a measure to repeal the sales tax on bottled water and an excise tax on on soda pop.

Consequently, if you vote "yes" on both measures or vote "no" on both, you will send contradictory signals on whether to keep or get rid of this particular sales tax.

Therefore, unless your stance on Referendum 52 is extremely nuanced (perhaps to the Nth degree), you will need to vote "yes" on one measure and "no" on the other in order for your votes to make sense.

By the numbers, Washington has 3,489 buildings in 295 public school districts and another 40 public institutions of higher learning are eligible for grants if the $505 million is approved. Districts will compete for the grants.

In their statement on the Washington Secretary of State's Web site, R-52's supporters argue that:

  • The measure will create 30,000 new construction job to overhaul the schools.
  • The revamped buildings will lead to an estimated $130 million savings in annual energy costs.
  • It will avoid $600 million in new construction debt because of heading off the need to build new schools over the next eight years.

That statement was prepared by former Republican Secretary of State Ralph Munro; Sharon Ness, a Pierce County nurse; the Washington Education Association; Rick Schrader of a Spokane small heating and air conditioning business; the Washington Environmental Council; and Sheet Metal Workers Local 66.

Meanwhile, R-52's opponents argued on the Secretary of State's Web site that:

  • Passing the measure would increase Washington's long-term debt to be retired.
  • The figure of 30,000 new construction jobs is drastically overestimated. Opponents say the state econmists really estimate that 5,700 new short-term construction jobs are more likely at the cost of $162,000 in tax money for each job.
  • The health issue is a false one — a case of "bait and switch." The state has mandated healthy schools for decades. And R-52 criteria does not mention asbestos, mold or other health matters.

The opponents' statement was provided by Republican State Sen. Joseph Zarelli, ranking member of the Senate's Ways and Means Committee; Republican State Rep. Judy Warnick, ranking member of the House's Capital Budget Committee; Democrat State Sen. Rodney Tom, vice chairman of the Senate's Ways and Means Committee.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8