Homelessness became one of several flashpoints between Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican Bill Bryant on Monday, with Inslee saying the former Seattle port commissioner showed “woeful ignorance” on the topic during the pair’s second televised debate.
Inslee, a Democrat seeking a second term, lumped Bryant with Republican legislators who Inslee said have tried to gut funding for homelessness in recent years.
Bryant later accused Inslee of misrepresenting his views on the issue.
The claims: Inslee said the state can’t succeed at bringing local government officials together to work on homelessness issues — something Bryant suggested earlier in the debate —if they have a governor who doesn’t understand the problem.
“I’m concerned because Bill demonstrated really woeful ignorance about this subject last week, and I’ll tell you why,” Inslee said.
Inslee went on to note that a large portion of the state funding that goes to local communities to fight homelessness comes from a $40 fee on the recording of real estate documents, such as deeds and mortgages, at county auditors’ offices.
“The Republicans last year tried to kill that and zero that out. They wanted to stop that, cut off 50 percent,” Inslee said.
“When Bill was asked about that, he didn’t even know where this money came from, and unfortunately, even now, has not said he would maintain this source of funding,” the governor said.
Bryant didn’t have a chance to counter Inslee’s claims during the debate, except to say he didn’t think Inslee was characterizing his position accurately.
The facts: In the Legislature, there was a mini-showdown in 2014 about whether to extend the document recording fee, which was set to gradually decrease starting in July 2015.
In the state Senate, housing committee co-Chairwoman Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, squashed Democrats’ attempt to make the fee permanent. Senate Republicans then countered by proposing a one-year extension.
Ultimately, the Legislature passed a four-year extension of the fee, which was a compromise measure that includes an audit to examine spending on the program before it expires.
Inslee’s statements at Monday’s debate related to Bryant’s comments at a candidate forum hosted earlier this month by the Association of Washington Cities.
At the Sept. 13 forum, Bryant was asked whether he would support continuing the fee on recorded documents to help fund homelessness programs.
Bryant responded, “I have not been that well apprised on how the funding for city programs comes about ... I don’t want to take a position on it when I don’t fully understand the issue.”
Bryant took a stronger position on the topic Tuesday, saying he has researched the fee since the AWC forum and doesn’t think it should be extended without a thorough analysis of how well it is working. He criticized Inslee for not being willing to review the effectiveness of the programs that receive the funding.
“Are these programs going to continue forever, or are we going to fund programs with the objective of eliminating homelessness?” Bryant said Tuesday.
“I don’t want to spend money on projects that aren’t working,” he said.
Conclusion: Inslee’s statement is true that Bryant wasn’t familiar with the document recording fee and how it relates to homelessness funding as recently as two weeks ago — though Bryant has brushed up on the topic since then.
But Inslee is stretching the truth a bit when he says Republicans tried to “kill” the document recording fee.
Though a Democratic proposal to enshrine the fee permanently in state law stalled in a Republican committee, Republicans leaders later proposed extensions that would enable the program to continue — just without the long-term certainty Democrats would have liked.
Because of that, we rate Inslee’s claim half-true.
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209