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

March 11, 2014 at 11:24 AM

Proposal advances on real estate fee to support homeless

State lawmakers are still arguing about whether to extend a surcharge fee used to fund homeless services — and for how long.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 5875, which would extend by one year a $40 fee for recording real estate documents and include provisions to benefit private landlords. Some say the extension is too short.

Sen. Jan Angel, a Port Orchard Republican who chairs the Senate Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee, last month denied a vote on a bill would extend the surcharge indefinitely. The state Department of Commerce expects the fee will generate $109 million between 2013 and 2015 for homeless programs.

House Bill 2368 would eliminate the sunset on the surcharge, which was a temporary provision aimed at cutting the state’s homeless population in half by 2015. The department 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.

Redmond Sen. Andy Hill is prime sponsor of SB 5875. He renewed the effort to extend the surcharge, but only by one year.

“If we say it’s temporary, we should make it temporary,” he said. Otherwise lawmakers “lose legitimacy with our voters.”

Sen. David Frockt, Seattle Democrat and sponsor of several bills to benefit homeless students, introduced an amendment to eliminate the sunset and, later, one to extend the sunset to 2020. The surcharge is “vital to our communities,” he said.

Committee members approved the bill without amendments. The measure waits for a vote in the Senate.

Republicans say more money should go to private property owners. Hill’s bill devotes a chunk of revenue to private landlords.

Counties collect revenue from surcharges and retain about 60 percent to fund local homeless services. The state receives most of the remainder, which goes to advocacy groups and back to counties which didn’t collect as much. The measure would reserve 45 percent of the state’s cut for private property rental vouchers.

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


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