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Inslee proposes billions for housing, would need voter OK

A man with gray hair and glasses in a blue suit and tie speaks into a trio of microphones with a marble wall and Washington state flag behind him.
Ted S. Warren
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks on Jan. 11, 2022, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Gov. Inslee has tested positive for COVID-19, his office said Wednesday, May 25, 2022, the same day state health officials urged people to wear face mask indoors as case counts steadily rise.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed Wednesday that state spending during the next two years prioritize housing, including an effort to quickly build thousands of units that would require the OK from Washington voters.

The governor’s proposed budget would spend $70 billion over two years starting in July 2023, The Seattle Times reported.

That figure represents a roughly 12% proposed increase in spending from the current budget. The budget proposal also reflects other focus areas including behavioral health, the environment and public safety, as lawmakers head into the 2023 legislative session.

Lawmakers will meet in Olympia starting Jan. 9 and will write and pass the budget, which requires the governor’s signature.

Washington continues to grapple with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and Inslee’s proposal describes the economic context as creating a “mixed bag of good and bad fiscal news” in which job losses have been recovered, but inflation is stressing consumers and driving up state government costs.

The governor hasn’t proposed any new tax increases but the budget reflects new sources of funding recently passed by lawmakers: a capital-gains tax and revenues raised by a cap-and-invest program to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

The capital gains tax faces a legal challenge and the Washington Supreme Court in January will hear oral arguments on that case.

To address the growing lack of affordable housing and number of people experiencing homelessness, Inslee is proposing the state raise $4 billion by issuing bonds outside the state’s debt limit.

If lawmakers ok the referendum and voters approve it next November, the money would be spent on emergency supportive housing for unhoused people, affordable housing units and helping low-income first-time homebuyers with down payments and closing costs.

“Unfortunately, we no longer have the influx of federal funding we are using today to quickly build thousands of new supportive housing units for people experiencing homelessness,” Inslee said in a statement. “I don’t want to lose momentum, and I don’t want the problem to get worse because we aren’t moving fast enough.”

The additional money would pay for about 5,300 housing units between 2023 and 2025 and 19,000 in the following six years, according to the proposal. Nearly 13,000 people are living unsheltered throughout Washington state — up from more than 10,500 in 2020, according to the state's 2022 Point in Time Count.

The referendum requires approval from lawmakers and voters.

Inslee also wants to shore up the state’s ability to care for residents with behavioral health needs, including money for state-run care, community-based and youth services.

His budget further outlines spending for early childhood education, protecting the Washington salmon population, and building five new hybrid-electric ferries and converting three to hybrid-electric.

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