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Lawmakers consider ideas to limit rising debt

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It's raining debt in Olympia, and state lawmakers are looking at ways to put limits on it.

Washington's total debt load is twice the national median – and one of the highest in the nation. That's the warning from the State Treasurer. Now lawmakers are considering two proposals to cap how much Washington can borrow for capital construction projects.

Consider this. Before Washington puts a dime towards schools or health care in the next two-year budget, it must make its debt payment.

Think of it as the state's mortgage for decades of borrowing to build infrastructure like K-12 and higher education buildings. In the next two years, that payment is nearly $2 billion.

"That's too much," says Democratic State Senator Derek Kilmer.

Kilmer wants to cap the state's debt limit at seven percent. But allow a nine percent debt load during bad economic times in order to help jump start the economy:

"Unfortunately you have a time like now where you're very constrained in terms of how much investment you can make even though you have a lot of out-of-work construction workers and it's cheap to build."

This counter-cyclical approach to borrowing has bipartisan support. But it would require a constitutional amendment.

And some critics are skeptical it would work as envisioned. Washington's State Treasurer James McIntire says lawmakers need to do something to rein-in the debt.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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