OLYMPIA — Washington House and Senate Democrats on Monday each released separate supplemental state budget plans that attempt to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
The proposals make tweaks to the $52.4 billion 2019-21 state operating budget lawmakers approved last spring. And they’re funded by a windfall of higher-than-expected tax collections that have given lawmakers roughly $1.5 billion in additional dollars for this budget cycle.
The plans come as lawmakers in both parties, along with Gov. Jay Inslee, say the state must take serious steps to reverse a housing crisis that has spread far beyond Seattle to all corners of the state.
Inslee in December released his proposed supplemental budget, which set aside $146 million in the current budget cycle for homelessness, and would spend a total $318 million on it over three years.
Between the governor’s proposal and the Senate and House plans released Monday, lawmakers and Inslee are set to make one of the most significant investments to come out of Olympia on homelessness and housing.
Buoyed by fresh tax revenues, both the House and Senate proposals boost spending without raising taxes or drawing down budget reserves, according to House and Senate budget writers.
The House proposal — which brings two-year state spending up to $53.7 billion — adds about $235 million in funding to build more affordable housing and crisis shelters, and awards grants to communities to combat homelessness.
The plan would put $100 million into the state’s Housing Trust Fund, with $15 million of that set aside for shelters. The proposal also provides $75 million to create a new account that would pay for operations and maintenance of existing affordable housing.
And the House plan adds $25 million to an existing grant program to fund community efforts, with a focus on shelters, and boosts funding for the state Housing and Essential Needs program by $20 million.
When choosing what programs to fund, House budget writers said they looked at how quickly the money could go from a proposal to actually being put to use.
“We really believe that this money can get out the door and into our communities in the next year,” said Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett.
Among other things, House lawmakers proposed nearly $58 million to expand the Working Connections Child Care subsidy program and other child-care programs, and $51 million to fund more school counselors in high-poverty school districts.
But lawmakers in both the House and Senate, along with Inslee, have broadly agreed they must respond to a homelessness and housing-affordability crisis that has spread far beyond Seattle.
The Senate’s proposed $53.6 billion supplemental budget would spend $115 million on homelessness. That includes $66 million for grants to communities so they can build shelters and $27 million for the state Housing and Essential Needs program.
Senate budget writers also committed $100 million to build the behavioral health hospital at the University of Washington. That project is a key piece of a new plan to reshape Washington’s troubled mental health system.
The Senate plan also sets aside $100 million in the coming years for state agencies to work on projects that reduce the effects of climate change. The state Office of Financial Management would consult with state agencies about projects and send recommendations to Inslee and the Legislature by Nov. 1.
Such projects could deal with forest health, ocean acidification, flooding or restoration of salmon habitat, said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.
“This fund is to protect us,” Rolfes, the chief Senate Democratic budget writer, said in a news conference. “To protect our economy, to protect our resources, to protect our communities from climate changes.”
Republicans, a minority in the House and Senate, have insisted that there’s enough money to fund both homelessness programs and provide a tax cut.
Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, last week introduced House Bill 2946 intended to cut car-tab fees while Initiative 976 remains for now in legal limbo. Every House Republican signed on as a co-sponsor.
“As session winds down, Republicans will continue to point out — in Committee, on the House floor, and to our constituents— that Washington can easily afford to invest in critical government services and cut taxes,” Stokesbary wrote Monday in a statement.
Inslee had originally proposed using money from the state’s budget reserves to fund his supplemental budget plan, but the windfall of projected tax dollars has since erased the need for that.
With the 60-day legislative session scheduled to end March 12, the governor, House and Senate have just over two weeks to hammer out a supplemental budget agreement.