You know where American Democracy™ fails? In little rooms in Olympia where petty politics play out, the poor get trampled upon, and it's all hidden from view. Yesterday afternoon, after TVW turned off its cameras at a Senate Financial Institutions, Housing, and Insurance Committee hearing, State Sen. Jan Angel (R-
27 26) suddenly, to the astonishment of her colleagues, killed off a bill that funds most of the state's homeless programs by ending the hearing before bringing it up.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom called Angel and told her to table the bill, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44) says, adding that Tom told him that directly. And rumors abound that Tom did it merely to perturb Speaker Frank Chopp. "There's those theories out there," says Hobbs. "He didn't say he wants to poke Frank Chopp in the eye, but I think everyone knows what Frank Chopp's thing is." Housing has long been Chopp's signature issue.
Here's how the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance describes the bill (ESHB 2368):
Washington State has embraced the use of modest recording fees on some real estate related documents as a significant source of funds for homelessness programs. These effective state and local programs help transition people off the streets into shelters and homes. The fees are the state’s most significant funding source for homelessness programs, representing almost half of all funds.
This fee is set to reduce by $10 in July 2015 and then reduce by another $20 in July 2017. This would result in a loss of 62.5% of total current funding for homelessness. If this happens, effective homelessness programs across the state will experience severe cuts or will close. This could seriously set back the progress we’ve made in decreasing homelessness in Washington.
Here's how the bill-killing went down (audio here):
Angel: The executive session is now closed and the meeting is adjourned.
Sen. Don Benton (R-17): Whoa whoa whoa. Madam chair, what about 2368?
Angel: The meeting is now adjourned.
Benton: Okaaay. That is abrupt and very disappointing. We worked very hard on this affordable housing bill. And we had an agreed-to amendment.
Sen. Steve Hobbs: I too am greatly disappointed, madam co-chair... We had the votes. We had a Republican Senator work with a Democratic house member. This is bipartisan, bicameral... I believe Representative Benton and Representative Sawyer did make the bill to a point where all parties were not opposed to the bill...
Angel: That is not correct. All parties are not in agreement, and therefore I have adjourned the meeting. So we'll continue to work on this during interim...
Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34): Madam chair I'm also wanting to express my disappointment. This will affect homeless individuals. It will affect the 10 year plan in King County that is critical to providing them shelter... To abruptly adjourn this meeting without protecting the homeless really, really bothers me and it will affect those who need a voucher just for housing over their heads on a cold day.
Angel: Thank you, your comments have been so noted. Thank you.
"It's not clear if Rodney Tom did this as a favor to bankers and realtors or out of political retribution," says FUSE Washington's Collin Jergens. "This is a new low for Rodney Tom."