This year’s shortened legislative session in Olympia has proven fruitful for the 19th Legislative District, as the area’s representatives secured more than $4 million in funding for local projects.
The new two-year state Supplemental Capital Budget was unanimously approved by the Washington Legislature on March 9. At $1.5 billion, the budget represents significant investment in state infrastructure, education, and affordable housing.
“For a supplemental year, this is some of the best stuff that we’ve been able to bring back. I’m pleased with the diversity of things we were able to get funded, and the amounts,” said state Representative Joel McEntire (R-Cathlamet) in a call with The Daily World. “Any project with upper six figures we were told wasn’t going to happen. That just shows that we did a good job, we worked hard making sure that these projects got their fair say when we were in those committees.”
The largest funded project in the 19th District in the session was the Veteran Housing and Resource Center in Raymond. With $2.3 million in funding from the budget, the project will help alleviate persistent affordable housing issues that are plaguing the state.
According to Pacific County Administrative Officer Paul Plakinger, the project will provide approximately 16 additional affordable housing units to the area, and will be located at the intersection of Third and Duryea Streets. While the project is in the initial meeting stages, the funding provides a welcome boost to improving housing accessibility in the area.
“The difficulty is finding good housing, stable housing, and affordable housing. This is not a conclusion, but it’s an ingredient,” said McEntire. “We would not let the issue go, we really put our heel down. If we don’t include this in the budget, what message are we sending as a state?”
The Legislature seems to be sending the message that they’re willing to move forward on alleviating the affordable housing crisis, but with limits. The state’s Supplemental Capital Budget this year included more than $400 million for affordable housing and homelessness. This covers $114 million for the Housing Trust Fund, $240 million for Rapid Housing Acquisition and $60 million for the new Apple Health and Homes Program. Including money the Legislature budgeted for these efforts last year, funds to create more affordable housing and reduce homelessness total more than $708 million for the 2021-23 budget cycle.
Other attempts to reduce the housing crisis failed earlier in the legislative session. Known as “missing middle” housing legislation, House Bill 1782 would have required cities with more than 20,000 people to allow duplexes or fourplexes on some single-family lots that met specific requirements. The bill also would have allowed for duplexes on certain lots that do not already have accessory dwelling units in cities with at least 10,000 people. After pushback from local governments, lawmakers chose not to advance the bill on Feb. 15.
House Bill 1660, which would have allowed for the construction of accessory dwelling units within an urban growth area, passed the House on Feb. 14 but was stalled in the Senate.
While spurring new construction of affordable housing units was at the forefront of this legislative session, current homeowners were not forgotten in the process. The Legislature apportioned funds to help current homeowners remain in their residences by adding $100 million in utility assistance and approximately $116.5 million in rental assistance.
Infrastructure projects were also a priority in the session, with approximately $200 million allocated for infrastructure projects around the state. In Grays Harbor County, that includes $412,000 in funding for the Westport Marina gear yard. A total of $450,000 was also allocated for the replacement of two bridges in Pacific County.
McEntire was hopeful that projects throughout the 19th District would receive funding, but he did not expect to bring so many state dollars home, especially given the demographics of the district’s legislators.
“Technically, we have three Republican members for our district. We have typically been a Democratic monopolized district, and that has had some political challenges. It’s difficult when you have some new guys in there, especially the minority party, it can be tough to get on the stage and get the time to advocate,” he said.
Other political challenges included differing views on spending levels this budget cycle. A post-pandemic rebounding economy has helped fuel a robust boost to the budget, but some legislators are more hesitant to spend it than others.
“With this year’s new spending included, the 2021-23 budget is 24 percent higher than the last one. This kind of unsustainable spending got the state in big trouble a dozen years ago when the last recession hit — Olympia never learns,” said state Senator Jeff Wilson (R-Longview) in a statement on March 16.
McEntire hopes to strike a balance between the needs of his constituents and fiscal responsibility, but moderation becomes difficult when states are flushed with cash.
“We don’t take into account the money we have today, we take into account the money we think we’re going to have tomorrow. We have to be careful, because we don’t always have those guarantees, obviously those projects are that we’re going to be doing well, but when we get that money, our appetite grows faster than that raise we might have,” he said.
Including the $6.3 billion two-year budget passed last year, the 2021-2023 Supplemental Capital Budget has risen to $7.8 billion. Investments in school seismic safety grants and retrofitting, behavioral health services, and broadband infrastructure also pushed the cost of the budget up this year.
According to McEntire, investments in infrastructure and climate preparedness will be among his top priorities when seeking funding next year.
“The list for the future is always bigger than the list for the past, but definitely the infrastructure for Grays Harbor and flooding mitigation is one of those top items,” he said. “We just don’t know when these events are going to come, so it’s good and right for us to invest in solutions.”