The Washington Association of Sewer & Water Districts (WASWD) has presented its annual Outstanding Legislator Award to 21st District State Sen. Marko Liias.
According to an association announcement, the award presented July 20 recognizes “the tremendous efforts he made to protect a critical state funding source for water, sewer, and other local government infrastructure projects.”
As chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Liias was a leader in the negotiations of the $17 billion transportation package that was passed in the 2022 Legislature, the announcement said. During the discussions, amidst pressure from the oil industry and several large business associations, he repeatedly and consistently objected to siphoning money from Washington state’s Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA) to fund the transportation package. While Liias’s efforts did not overcome the momentum to use funds from the PWAA for the transportation package, they helped to temper the amount of money that was diverted, the association said.
“Our state’s Public Works Assistance Account has been nationally recognized for its innovative approach to improving infrastructure in the most affordable manner for citizens,” Liias said. “I will continue to champion it every chance I get.”
The PWAA was established more than three decades ago to provide low-interest loans to special purpose utility districts, cities and counties for sewer, water and a limited number of other public infrastructure projects. The account is largely funded through taxes imposed on utility operations and through repayment of past PWAA loans. Liias has long recognized its critical importance to special-purpose utility districts, both during his time as state representative from 2008 through 2014, and currently as state senator, the association said.
In the past decade, the 21st Legislative District has received close to $15 million in PWAA funding for infrastructure improvements, encompassing sewer main and lift station improvements for Mukilteo Water & Wastewater District, a new replacement water line for Olympic View Water & Sewer District, a water supply project for Cross Valley Water District, and pollution control facility improvement costs for Silver Lake Water & Sewer, the announcement said.
Despite the success of the program, legislators began diverting more than $150 million a year from the PWAA, starting in 2009, to cover budget shortfalls. Despite promising to end the diversion in 2023, the legislature will now continue to divert funds for the transportation package. According to the association, this practice has a direct and increasingly negative impact on the quality of our state’s infrastructure. In 2021, over 30 qualified projects remained unfunded due to a lack of resources, and that number will only continue to grow.
“All of us at WASWD are extremely grateful for Sen. Liias’ persistence and commitment to affordable essential water and sewer services,”said WASWD Executive Director Judi Gladstone.