It is only May but the legislative session is wrapped up in Olympia. Don’t dwell on how much faster we could get things done with a year-round session. Instead, join Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in celebrating the legislative wins for the city — and join her in a few boos on the “missed opportunities” including missing the boat (again!) on a state capital gains tax, and failing to get the job done on “Block the Box” legislation.
“We needed the state to step up and invest in more affordable housing, behavioral health needs, college access, and fighting climate change. We also needed to end the ban on efforts to remedy systemic discrimination,” Durkan said in a statement released Tuesday.
“The Legislature made some key strides,” she said. “While the budget did not go as far as we hoped, it makes important investments in a more affordable, healthier, and inclusive future. I am grateful to our partners in the legislature and Governor Inslee for their leadership in advancing Seattle’s priorities.”
Washington legislators approved a new $52.4 billion, two-year state operating budget and reached a deal on school district tax levies. For large districts like Seattle, the legislation will allow levies at the $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $3,000 per student — whichever is less.
Lawmakers also reversed the state’s affirmative action ban. The move repeals Initiative 200, approved by voters 20 years ago, which blocked the government from giving preferential treatment to, or discriminating against, people and groups on the basis of sex, ethnicity, color, race or national origin. A group opposing the change had has filed a referendum to put the measure to a public vote.
Seattle City Hall’s views on the wins — and the misses — are below.
Investing More in Affordable Housing
- Leaders in Olympia acted on two City of Seattle priorities for more resources for affordable housing: Advancing HB 1406 to allow cities like Seattle to retain more sales tax and bond against it to fund affordable housing, and by increasing funding for the Housing Trust Fund. In addition, the Legislature provided important tax relief for low-income seniors, individuals with disabilities, and veterans (HB 5160).
- HB 1406 authorizes cities and counties to use a local sales tax, credited against their state sales tax, to be used for affordable and/or supportive housing. Speaker Frank Chopp and Reps. June Robinson championed the legislation, with key support from Seattle’s Senate delegation, which will allow the use of $500 million in state funds over 20 years to help with a wide array of housing levels and supports for the most vulnerable residents in Seattle and statewide.
- Due to the work of Senator David Frockt, the budget increased the Housing Trust Fund to $175 million. The Housing Trust Fund makes funds available for affordable housing projects through a competitive process.
- This session also saw significant investments to improve our behavioral health system. HB 1593 creates a behavioral health innovation and integration campus within the University of Washington School of Medicine, which will include 150 beds that are expected to come online within three years. It also directs the University of Washington School of Medicine to submit a development and siting plan to the Office of Financial Management and the Legislature by December 1, 2019. The bill passed unanimously out of both the House and Senate. The Legislature also approved SB 5444, which provides timely competency evaluations and restoration services to persons suffering from behavioral health disorders within the forensic mental health care system.
Investing in Access to Training, Apprenticeships, and Colleges
- The Legislature also acted to expand access to college with the passage of HB 2158, the Workforce Education Investment Act. This legislation will make public colleges and apprenticeships in Washington State tuition-free for families earning less than $50,000 annually, with partial tuition scholarships for families earning up to the state’s median income through the Washington College Grant. The legislation also expands the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program to include municipal matches. The City will work with its partners to leverage these assets to compliment the Seattle Promise program. We extend our thanks to Representative Drew Hansen for his tireless efforts on these important issues.
Protecting the Rights of Renters
- Mayor Durkan also praised the passage of SB 5600, which helps prevent displacement and housing insecurity by providing protections to renters statewide. It extends the three-day notice to pay and vacate for default in rent payment to 14 days notice for tenancies under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. It also creates a uniform 14-day notice to pay and vacate that includes information on how tenants can access legal and advocacy resources. It also allows eviction court judges to use discretion and consider extenuating circumstances such as job loss or hospitalization, expands a mitigation fund to ensure landlords receive judgement payments promptly while giving tenants more time to pay, and limits the attorney fees tenants can be required to pay. An additional bill (HB 1440) provides greater notice of rent increases by requiring 60 days’ notice of rent increases instead of 30.
Fighting Climate Change
- The final state budget also included provisions to help Seattle and Washington State remain climate leaders. HB 1512 provides clear authority to utilities like Seattle City Light to invest in the electrification of transportation infrastructure.
- In addition, SB 5116 requires all electric utilities to gradually transition away from any fossil-fuel generate electricity. It requires each electric utility to make all retail sales of electricity greenhouse gas neutral by January 1, 2030 and sets a standard for each electric utility to meet 100 percent of its retail electric load using non-emitting and renewable resources by January 1, 2045.
Missed Opportunities: Capital Gains Tax and Automated Traffic Enforcement Cameras
- Mayor Durkan also expressed her disappointment that legislators failed to pass a capital gains tax and failed to pass ‘block the box’ legislation, ESHB 1793, that would help reduce the number of vehicles blocking critical intersections and transit lanes through automated traffic enforcement cameras.