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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

March 10, 2014 at 1:22 PM

Compromise offered on real-estate fee to support homeless programs

Senate Republicans have introduced a compromise over a fee that funds housing services for the state’s homeless, but some say the proposal isn’t enough.

State Senate and House lawmakers announced last week that House Bill 2368 would get a pass on the normal deadline for bills, giving themselves an extra week to work on the issue.

HB 2368 would extend indefinitely a $40 surcharge on recording real-estate documents. The bill stalled in the Senate Fina­ncial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee last month after chair Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, adjourned the hearing before members could vote.

Now, Sen. Andy Hill, a Redmond Republican who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, introduced Senate Bill 5875, which would extend the fee for another year.

The surcharge was a temporary provision within the Homeless Housing and Assistance Act, a 2005 measure aimed at cutting the state’s homeless population in half by 2015. The state Department of Commerce reports a 29 percent decrease in Washington’s homeless population since 2006.

The fee is set to phase out now that the 10-year period is ending, but the department says it should have more time because of the 2008 recession. If nothing happens, the tax would decrease to $30 in 2015 and $10 in 2017.

Dan McConnon,  deputy director at the commerce department, said he expects the fee will generate about $109 million between 2013 and 2015. If lawmakers allow the fee to decrease, he said the amount would shrink to about $41 million between 2015 and 2017.

Counties collect the surcharge and retain about 60 percent to fund local homeless programs. The state receives most of the remainder, which goes to advocacy groups and back to counties who didn’t collect as much.

Under Hill’s bill, 45 percent of the state’s cut would go towards rental vouchers for private properties.

Former Rep. Bill Hinkle is now the executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Washington. He was in the state House of Representatives when the original bill passed in 2005.

He said private landlords support the bill with the sunset because it holds lawmakers accountable.

Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, is the prime sponsor of the original bill. He said he would support the rental-voucher provision if Hill’s bill didn’t have a sunset. “Why change policy when you’re only punting it a year?”

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing for the bill on Monday. More than 20 people signed up to testify.

No action was taken.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest, State government, State Legislature | Topics: homeless


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