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Washington state GOP lawmaker ‘confronts reality’ with homeless proposal

Homeless campers in Seattle. (David Lee, Flickr Creative Commons)

A new proposal from Republican State House Rep. Drew Stokesbary is meant to tackle homelessness in a way not often seen from fiscal conservatives in Washington state.

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Stokesbary’s plan would fund localized homeless responses by authorizing city governments to increase a sales tax that would then be matched by the state dollar for dollar. As for why a Republican would support a tax increase of any kind, Rep. Stokesbary cited a need to be realistic about how Washington is — or isn’t — confronting what’s become a statewide crisis.

“While the state economy has not only recovered but thrived after the great recession, homelessness has not been a priority,” he told KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “We have seen budget after budget be passed with minimal investments. We’ve seen how it manifests on the street, and with the problem getting worse and worse under today’s current political leadership, I sort of had to confront reality.”

The measure includes requirements related to accountability, while allowing voters to have a say in whether the tax increase can continue on into the future.

“This proposal is different,” said Stokesbary. “It requires the cities to go before the voters every four years and ask if they can continue to to reauthorize the tax.”

Meanwhile, cities will be required to publicly report data on how they use the money they raise to address homelessness. That would include the amount spent on administrative costs versus actionable solutions, a discrepancy Stokesbary cites as a frequent problem in many cities.

Cities participating would also need to meet a pair of requirements: They would have to pass an ordinance banning safe injection sites and agree to ban unauthorized camping within 500 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, and courthouses. Cities would also need to provide certification to the Department of Revenue showing they passed those ordinances, while mayors would need to agree under penalty of perjury that those ordinances are being enforced.

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“Virtually every city in the state will probably be fine with those two restrictions,” Stokesbary noted, while pointing out that there may be one city that would potentially be hesitant.

“It is the city of Seattle that would not surprise me if they decide that they would rather keep the possibility alive of having a supervised injection site, and would forego the millions of dollars that would be made available under this bill for them to create more shelter space and provide more mental health services,” he added.

Stokesbary hopes his proposal will act as an alternative to one from Gov. Inslee, which would depend solely on money from the state budget.

“What I’m proposing, it’s a 50/50 partnership between the local government and the state,” he outlined. “So for every dollar spent on homelessness, that whole dollar is spread across the whole state. In the governor’s plan, only 50 cents is collected from the state.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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