Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (seated center) talks to reporters about his proposed supplemental state budget Wednesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (seated center) talks to reporters about his proposed supplemental state budget Wednesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Inslee favors reserves over taxes to help house the homeless

His supplemental budget would fund a plan to add shelter beds and supportive housing for thousands

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee put forth a supplemental budget Wednesday containing no tax increases or service cuts but taps the state’s emergency reserves to provide temporary shelter and supportive housing for thousands of homeless individuals.

Inslee is proposing to siphon $319 million from the Rainy Day Fund for a state-driven effort to reduce the number of people living outside by 50 percent in the next two years.

His blueprint calls for the state, working with cities, counties and nonprofits, to add 2,100 beds in local shelters, give rental and other housing assistance to 2,300 individuals, and provide supportive housing for 1,080 people.

The state’s done a lot in recent years to make more affordable housing available, he said.

“The fact of the matter is we’re not keeping pace with the tide of people who need housing services in the state of Washington,” he said at a news conference. “We need a response that will match the scope of this crisis. We are using the Rainy Day Fund because it is raining, physically.”

In terms of dollars, this is the single largest initiative in the governor’s spending proposal which now goes to the Legislature where it will serve as a framework for budget writers in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate in the upcoming 60-day session.

Overall, Inslee is seeking to roughly add $1.1 billion in spending to the two-year $52.4 billion state operating budget he signed in May. The budget runs through mid-2021.

A big chunk, $478 million, is for what’s known as maintenance level spending associated with public education, prisons and publicly funded health care services. There’s $336 million in funding to expand existing programs and carry out a few new ones.

For example, there’s $18 million to hire additional direct care staff and ward psychologists at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals and $8.4 million for family planning programs to replace the loss of federal funds.

It contains $1.7 million to expand nursing services in Washington’s smallest schools, $1.4 million to hire more staff at state parks and provide more maintenance crews, and $400,000 to develop a centralized firearm background check system.

Inslee didn’t propose either a capital gains tax or fee on carbon emissions, both of which have been staples of his previous budget proposals.

He said he recognized lawmakers may not have the bandwidth in the short 60-day session.

However, that wasn’t the case two years ago when he proposed a supplemental budget containing a new fee on carbon emissions to help cover the costs of complying with the McCleary school funding lawsuit.

“It’s good that the governor didn’t propose new taxes, for a change, but he also wants nearly a billion dollars in additional spending at a time when there are already concerns about the sustainability of the current budget,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, in a statement.

”His emphasis on housing seems to ignore government’s track record on addressing homelessness, and he missed opportunities to address issues that matter to all Washingtonians, like car tabs and repeat DUI offenders and property-tax relief for all low-income seniors,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Inslee released his supplemental transportation budget listing dozens of projects put on hold until the fate of Initiative 976 is known. The state faces the loss of $454 million in the current budget if the voter-approved initiative lowering car tabs is upheld in the courts.

The state Department of Transportation, at Inslee’s direction, has already pushed the pause button on a number of highway projects and transit-related investments. And the state is setting aside the portion of money it now collects on car tabs that might need to be refunded should a legal challenge fail.

Inslee said Wednesday he’s making no attempt to find a different source of money to backfill the idled revenues. He rejected an idea pushed by Braun to divert a portion of sales tax paid on vehicle purchases away from the general fund and into transportation.

“Those are card tricks that don’t work,” he said. Losing those dollars could result in cuts in other areas, like public education.

Details of Inslee’s budget proposal can be found online at www.ofm.wa.gov.

The 2020 legislative session begins Jan. 13 and is slated to run 60 days.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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