West side senator seeks creation of state bank

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, wants to create a state bank to invest in infrastructure.

MOSES LAKE — Sen. Lisa Wellman is on a mission.

The Mercer Island Democrat and former Apple executive, who represents the state’s 41st Legislative District, believes Washington needs to improve its fiscal infrastructure, especially the way smaller governments and entities like ports and special districts fund infrastructure projects.

“There are probably $400 million of shovel-ready projects in Washington just ready to go,” Wellman said.

Wellman, who is in Moses Lake for a conference on rural jobs, believes one of the answers is a state bank to make loans to towns, cities, counties, ports — a state bank that would be financed from deposits by those same entities.

“Can we keep money that is generated by the economy of Washington working for the state of Washington? Of course we can. We want to do that,” she said.

If fully capitalized and managed properly, Wellman said a state bank could allow smaller governments to borrow more cheaply. The bank would have to be managed by professional bankers, she added, and would need significant statutory independence from the state.

“This is not a piggy bank for the state of Washington,” she said.

Wellman highlighted the plight of the Public Works Assistance Fund, which was flush with $97 million to be loaned out to cities and districts at roughly 1.5-2 percent interest. The legislature transferred the money to the general fund and replaced it with bonds issued at 3 percent, a guaranteed loss for the state of Washington.

“Is that a way to do business?” she asked.

Wellman, who is serving in her first term, said she is working with “a bipartisan coalition” that would allow the legislature to create the bank, and hopes to be well along to passage in 2018.

“Half the states are looking at state banks,” she said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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