Opinion: Future Fund offers promising dividends for all of us

It might sound like a stretch to anyone who glazes over at phrases like “bond ratings” or “debt management,” but the way state Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti sees it, his job is where the action is.

“There’s never a dull day in the Treasurer’s Office,” he said brightly during a visit to Yakima this week.

Yes, he said it with a grin, but yes, he was still dead serious.

Pellicciotti was in town to meet with local officials and business leaders and talk up some of the work his office is doing.

As it turns out, one of the biggest items on that list, at least as far as the Yakima Valley is concerned, is Pellicciotti’s ongoing push for the Washington Future Fund.

The fund — which Pellicciotti sees as a key strategy in the fight against wealth inequity — gained significant traction in the most recent legislative session. Approval for a new committee that will study wealth inequity and how the Future Fund might address wealth gaps made it into the state supplemental budget, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed in March.

In plain terms (for those who might be glazing over even as we speak) the Future Fund means money for local young people.

The plan would set aside $3,200 for each baby born under the state’s Apple Health insurance. The money would stay in a fund that the State Investment Board would manage until the child grows up — recipients could claim their cash anytime between ages 18 and 31, assuming they’re still residents of Washington.

The money could be used in any of three ways:

  • To pay for education, including trade schools and apprenticeships.
  • To buy a home.
  • To start a business.

Depending on how the markets go, Pellicciotti estimates each payout could end up being in the $10,000 to $15,000 range. Enough to make a serious difference for a kid who otherwise might not see much of a future.

It could affect a lot of young lives, too. The state estimates roughly half the babies born in Washington each year are covered under Apple Health. In rural counties like ours, that figure is more like 75%. It all adds up to about 40,000 kids per year statewide.

Pellicciotti expects the Legislature will consider formally establishing the Future Fund when it meets for its 2023 session.

Finance guys like Pellicciotti usually play the long game. They’re looking 10, 20 or 30 years down the road as they calculate investment returns, interest rates and all those other things that make the rest of us glaze over.

The Future Fund is a great example of that, but it’s also a promising idea for breaking poverty cycles and leveling some playing fields.

When you consider how many of our Valley’s most chronic problems are rooted in poverty, the Future Fund could go a long way to address related issues like crime, poor health and lack of education. Problems, unfortunately, that can define and limit communities where people don’t have enough money.

The Future Fund already has some bipartisan support, and we suspect the new Washington Future Fund Committee will provide new insights into the idea’s viability and potential benefits.

We hope state lawmakers will give it careful consideration next year. It sounds like it could change the lives of a lot of little Washingtonians in years to come.

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