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Homelessness, transportation funding top lawmakers’ priority list in 2020 session

(Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

What is supposed to be a short 60-day legislative session gets underway in Olympia Monday, but there is a lot to take care of in 2020.

Governor Inlsee made clear homelessness is a top priority in his proposed budget, which looks to pull some $300 million from the state’s rainy day fund to cover 2,100 additional emergency shelter beds and other services for those living unsheltered.

For the most part there is agreement on prioritizing homelessness, but not everyone agrees on how.

“I think the governor is right, moving folks from being unsheltered to being sheltered is very important,” said incoming House Speaker Laurie Jinkins at Thursday’s Associated Press legislative preview.

But Jinkins also believes a more comprehensive approach is needed.

“Our housing crisis, I think of it on a continuum – we have challenges with folks being unsheltered but once folks get into shelters then there’s not enough transitional housing, there’s not enough permanent supportive housing for folks who have behavioral health issues or substance issues, which we know having permanent supportive housing is key to folks saying housed,”Jinkins said.

Jinkins also is not sure the two-thirds majority vote required to pull money from the rainy day fund for this exists.

Republican Senator Mark Schoesler doesn’t believe it is or should be.

“If you look at the governor’s plan as I understand it you take one time money from the rainy day fund and you create ongoing costs – that is not sustainable, period,” Schoesler said, suggesting the first step should be a comprehensive audit on how much money is being spent per homeless person to determine whether it’s being spent wisely.

The governor said he believed the rainy day fund was a better option than creating a new tax to cover the homeless needs, but added he didn’t care where the money came from so long as it got done.

There is also disagreement over transportation funding, and how to fill the nearly half-billion dollar gap in the current transportation budget created by I-976 and more.

“Nobody wants to bring Washington to a halt,” said House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox suggesting the best path forward was to adopt a proposal from Sen. John Braun that would divert vehicle sales tax dollars to backfill the transportation funding gap from I-976 and create future transportation dollars.

But Senate Democratic Leader Andy Billig believes those dollars should stay put.

“I’m cautious about diverting funds from the general fund because there is such need and such important investments that we know will pay a return that we haven’t made yet,”Billig said.

The governor echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t believe citizens want to see less teachers in the classroom,” Inslee said. “I don’t believe citizens want to have less mental health care for the homeless at all. So no, I do not believe that’s the solution to this problem.”

New gun laws are also expected to get a lot of attention with bills requested by Inlsee and State Attorney General Bob Ferguson to ban so-called assault weapons and limit high capacity magazines. But Democrats seemed more confident in strengthening existing laws, such as the background check system, than the more controversial efforts.

Billig and Jinkins both said they would need to caucus to discuss so-called high-capacity magazine and assault weapons sales bans.

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