The Seattle Times editorial board urges a "No" vote on Referendum 52, which would authorize the state to sell $505 million in "Hans Bonds."

ON Nov. 2, state voters will be offered Referendum 52, for the state to borrow $505 million on Wall Street. The sponsor of these “Hans Bonds,” Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, has set it up in a way that makes it look appealing, but we cannot support it.

The money is to be offered to school districts and public colleges for making “green” improvements to their buildings. The argument is that these investments will pay for themselves in a few years. The favored example is the replacement of old light fixtures with modern fluorescent fixtures, saving money on electric bills.

The Seattle Times favors projects like that. We have one of our own to install modern fluorescents. We also have to pay for it, which is an incentive for us to make sure it will work.

The “Hans Bonds” proposal does not have such an incentive. The schools and colleges spend the state’s money and do not have to pay it back. They will have to say their projects will save energy, but no one will hold them to it.

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

Under those rules, there will be far less energy saved than advocates believe.

Then, the cost. The state calculates the Hans Bonds will cost $32.3 million a year for 29 years. To offset this, R-52 makes permanent the sales tax on bottled water, which is set to expire July 1, 2013. It is a neat solution except for one problem: Initiative 1107, which is also on the ballot, and for which $14 million is being spent to convince you to vote for it, repeals the tax entirely.

We asked the R-52 people about that. No problem, they said. If the tax on bottled water goes away, the Legislature will have to find some other money to pay off the bonds. Once the bonds are sold, they become an obligation of the state. They must be paid — and before the state pays for police, courts, prisons, health care and higher education.

If you care about those other state activities, think twice about approving R-52, which sets up a prior claim to state revenues.

A final thing. Voters might ask why R-52 is on the ballot at all. If the Legislature wanted it, why did it not just enact it? The reason is to allow the $505 million to exceed the state’s bond limit. To do that, the state has to ask its citizens.

The right answer on Referendum 52 is “No.”