Op-Ed: New building code regulations put on hold as economy struggles
Special to the Chambers of Commerce
Local builders and people seeking to purchase a new home can breathe a sigh of relief – at least for now. The Washington State Building Code Council (SBCC), at the reluctant request of the governor, has temporarily suspended new energy building codes that were to go into effect July 1. I'm concerned these new restrictions could cost construction jobs and put affordability of home ownership out of the reach for new homebuyers. That's why I and several of my Republican and Democrat colleagues, have urged the governor against accelerating implementation.
To better understand this issue, a little history is in order.
In 2009, the Legislature approved and the governor signed into law Senate Bill 5854. The measure would incrementally increase energy codes for homes and buildings, beginning in 2013, with the goal of a 70 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2031.
Home energy efficiency is certainly a laudable goal, but those of us who opposed this bill were concerned about the impacts these new codes could have on the construction industry and for home affordability. To ease those worries, the bill required the SBCC to incrementally advance the codes over an 18-year period. Unfortunately, in direct conflict with the law, the governor directed the SBCC to accelerate the timeline and require a 30 percent energy-use reduction for buildings by July 1, 2010.
My colleague, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, and I both serve on the Legislature's Joint Administrative Rules Review Committee. We felt the governor overstepped her authority. Last fall, we repeatedly asked the SBCC to provide a cost analysis of the new regulations, including how the codes would affect jobs.
The council's response was: “the number of jobs created or lost as a result of compliance with the proposed rule is unknown.” Yet the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) told the council: “For a large 148,000 sq/ft commercial project with an estimated cost of $25-$35 million, these code changes could increase the cost by $500,000 to $700,000.” OFM also pointed out: “The up-front cost of new homes under this proposed code will certainly increase.” One of the state's leading home builders estimated those additional costs could be as much as $24,000 for a new 1,200 square-foot home.
Regardless, the governor pushed forward, and the council adopted the accelerated codes on Nov. 20.
Now comes word the recession may last longer, especially in construction and housing. New home sales collapsed in May after buyers no longer received tax credits. Construction jobs also declined by 700 in May, adding to the nearly 48,000 construction jobs lost in Washington since 2007.
In her June 8 letter to the SBCC, the governor wrote: “I do not like having to make this request. . . However, I believe a temporary delay is necessary to allow the construction industry to stabilize. We cannot risk further delay of our state recovery, or worse, a deepening recession. The needs of our families and communities for jobs, and a healthy economy, must take precedent.”
Finally, the governor gets it. But for how long? She's suggested only a nine-month delay.
It's time for the governor and her agencies to understand the gravity of this recession and stop burdening the state's economy with job-killing policies. If new codes are adopted, they should adhere to the 18-year incremental timeline as written in Senate Bill 5854 — not accelerated beyond the law. Better yet, the Legislature should consider suspending them altogether, and refocus on job creation and better home affordability in our state.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him through his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.