Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 10

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Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy 

 

The end of the regular legislative session, April 23, is rapidly approaching. It has been a long time coming, but as discussed last week, the Operating Budget in particular is one item that's not likely to be resolved soon. The budget bills and any other bills deemed “NTIB” – necessary to implement the budget, might need a special session or two to reach final agreement.

The last two weeks of this regular session is expected to be a flurry of action to pass the many bills that are subject to the normal cutoff dates. This Wednesday, April 12 is the floor cutoff for bills that have made it all the way over from the opposite chamber and through the opposite house committees. They need to be voted on by the full Senate or House by 5:00 PM on the 12th in order to continue to proceed in the process. The Legislative website offers more detailed information on the legislative process. If you are following a particular bill this session, you might be interested in reading the information about concurrent, dispute, or conference committees. It is surprising, but not uncommon, for bills to die even after being voted off of both floors due to mismatching amendments that cannot be resolved before the last day of session.

Revenue

Last week started with an early Monday morning hearing (April 3) on the House revenue package. The Housing Alliance was proud to sign in pro along with about 30 of our members. Many nonprofits across the state have been doing deep organizing work to move their organizations – including their staff, boards, members, and donors – to a position of full support for a fair, progressive tax system. The many, many nonprofits who took the proactive step to sign in pro on HB 2186/Lytton (D, 40th LD) on Monday signifies this work. This is an important milestone. If this bill was introduced five or so years ago, it would not have been able to garner this depth of support, but due to the work of so many people and organizations across the state, 84 testified pro Monday (vs. 36 con), and another 83 signed in pro (vs. 25 con). Good work! But lawmakers still need to hear more from their constituents about this bill. Some fear political reprisals for a yes vote, so House lawmakers need to hear loud and clear that you support this progressive tax package that shifts the overall cost towards wealthy households, and away from the low- and middle-income households in our state that are currently paying a disproportionate amount of their incomes on taxes compared to the rich.

The Capital Budget(s)

Another big development last week was the release of the House Capital Budget on Wednesday (April 5). It was subsequently heard early on Thursday morning (kudos to the House Capital Budget Committee for being the first in years to give the public more than 3 hours with the budget bill before public testimony). The Housing Alliance and six of our member organizations testified pro because the House Capital Budget invests a bit deeper in affordable housing than the Senate’s budget. Check out the great testimony here and here, and much thanks to everyone who came to Olympia so early to testify!

From left to right: Liz Mills, YWCA Seattle, King & Snohomish Counties; Jessa Lewis, Tenants Union of Washington State; Philippa Nye, Ally Community Development; Mallory Hagel, volunteer with OPAL Community Landtrust and Kirk McClain, with the Housing Alliance’s Emerging Advocate’s Program and Capitol Hill Housing.

The House Capital Budget proposes $106.37 million for affordable housing, while the Senate budget proposes $99 million. The good news is that since the budgets are not too far apart in this area, ending with the $106 million high water mark shouldn’t be unrealistic. But there are two significant factors to consider. One is that the total House budget proposal is significantly bigger than the Senate’s (by over $155 million). This could mean that negotiations with the Senate result in a smaller final budget. The second is that the House’s proposal is very far from the housing community’s biennial ask of $200 million for the Housing Trust Fund. While this is disappointing, there is still an opportunity to make up for some of this gap in the 2018 supplemental budget. But remember, the supplemental budget is always smaller than the original, so the bulk of our $200 million ask needed to be in the 2017 budget. Despite the disappointing House proposal, it is clear that we now have to unify and work hard to ensure that the final budget ends no lower than the House’s $106 million, and then we will work to get the deepest supplemental investment possible in 2018. And we also need to push to hold on to a big bright spot in the House budget, that wasn’t in the Senate’s: the $39 million for a competitive pool for general affordable housing and homelessness investments. We don’t want that lost during the budget negotiations.

Additional points of comparison between the two Capital Budget proposals:

  • Both budgets have similar language that allows the Department of Commerce to use funds allotted to categories for “other low-income and special needs populations” if there are not “adequate suitable projects in a category”. This ensures flexibility and that no money will be left on the table if a specified category doesn’t have enough projects submitted.
  • The House budget has more in project earmarks: $10.09 million vs. $8.4 million in the Senate budget. Each budget has different projects earmarked. The Housing Alliance does not support project earmarks, instead we advocate for a bigger overall competitive appropriation for affordable housing.
  • The Senate budget includes a $6 million set-aside for tiny “homes” projects in Shelton and Orting that is not included in the House budget. Instead the House has a bucket valued at $2.795 M that is for tiny “homes”, but aimed at a chronically homeless population, and without the specific geographic requirement. Click here to access the House and Senate budget bills, as well as summaries of each bill that are prepared by legislative staff. The Leap website also has other helpful information, I encourage you to poke around!

Washington Housing Opportunities Act, HB 1570/Macri!

One of the most important bills of the session might not be resolved before the end of regular session on April 23. HB 1570/Macri is NTIB (as covered in previous posts) and is still in a position to be enacted this year. But the lines between the House and Senate have clearly been drawn. Between the stark differences in the Operating Budget Proposals by each chamber, and the many good housing and homelessness bills that have been killed by Senate leadership this session, it is absolutely clear that housing and homelessness issues will be serious points of contention during special session negotiations. Representative Ormsby (D, 3rd LD) and chair of the House Appropriations Committee discussed the differences in the budgets on last week’s episode of Inside Olympia. The show starts with an interview with the Senate Budget writer, Senator Braun (R, 20th LD). It is a particularly interesting episode of the weekly show, especially regarding the political and philosophical differences between the House and Senate majority parties that the episode highlights.

Lawmakers need to hear from you!

Stay tuned to the Housing Alliance’s social media for breaking news, and we will continue to keep you updated during these last weeks. Most importantly, please help us ensure that lawmakers continue to hear from constituents about affordable housing and homelessness issues. Your advocacy has been great, but we need to push through together because the legislature is not yet responding to affordable housing and homelessness as if it is a crisis. It is, and we need you to help raise the urgency. Even if you called your lawmaker last week, please do it again. If you haven’t called them recently, please do so today. You can leave one message for all of your lawmakers through the state’s toll free legislative hotline: 1-800-562-6000. It is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Click here for talking points and to sign our pledge to make the call!

Ask a Lobbyist!

I recently was asked two related questions that are timely given that the end of session is so near, yet final agreement on the budgets any time soon is unlikely.

Question 1: If the legislature knows that it will not be able to finish their budget within the timeframe of the session, why don’t they just agree to change the timeframe instead of going through the drama of declaring special sessions?

Question 2: It seems like lawmakers in Olympia rarely finish the budget by their deadline and always need to go into overtime. Wouldn’t it be better if we switched to a full time legislature, instead of holding them to unworkable deadlines?

The timeframes under which the legislature can be convened are determined by the state constitution, which caps the length of the regular session during an odd-numbered year to 105, and to 60 days on even-numbered years. The same section of the constitution (article 2, section 12) outlines the rules for calling a special session. Here is the language:

(1) Regular Sessions. A regular session of the legislature shall be convened each year. Regular sessions shall convene on such day and at such time as the legislature shall determine by statute. During each odd-numbered year, the regular session shall not be more than one hundred five consecutive days. During each even-numbered year, the regular session shall not be more than sixty consecutive days.

(2) Special Legislative Sessions. Special legislative sessions may be convened for a period of not more than thirty consecutive days by proclamation of the governor pursuant to Article III, section 7 of this Constitution. Special legislative sessions may also be convened for a period of not more than thirty consecutive days by resolution of the legislature upon the affirmative vote in each house of two-thirds of the members elected or appointed thereto, which vote may be taken and resolution executed either while the legislature is in session or during any interim between sessions in accordance with such procedures as the legislature may provide by law or resolution. The resolution convening the legislature shall specify a purpose or purposes for the convening of a special session, and any special session convened by the resolution shall consider only measures germane to the purpose or purposes expressed in the resolution, unless by resolution adopted during the session upon the affirmative vote in each house of two-thirds of the members elected or appointed thereto, an additional purpose or purposes are expressed. The specification of purpose by the governor pursuant to Article III, section 7 of this Constitution shall be considered by the legislature but shall not be mandatory.

(3) Committees of the Legislature. Standing and special committees of the legislature shall meet and conduct official business pursuant to such rules as the legislature may adopt.

Regarding the question about whether it would be better to have the legislature convened full-time… it wouldn’t address the problem of when the legislature is able to reach agreement on a final budget. The state budgets are biennial and expire after two years. Regardless of how long the legislature is allowed to convene, lawmakers still need to get the Operating Budget done before the current one expires. In this case, agreement must be met by June 30 2017.

Feel free to submit your questions about the legislative process by emailing reinyc@wliha.org.

Lastly, the annual Conference on Ending Homelessness is almost here! Join us May 10 and 11 in Tacoma for two action-packed days of learning, networking, self-care, and movement building. The early bird registration rates expire on April 25 – sign up soon, and also be sure to reserve your hotel room before they fill up. Learn more about the conference here.

Thanks for your partnership in advocacy,

Best,

Michele

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