As anger grew Thursday over the impending phase-out of a fee that provides shelter for the homeless, embattled Sen. Jan. Angel, R-Port Orchard, asked Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to set up a task force on the issue.
Angel recently blocked a bill to save the $40 fee on home-sale documents, provoking outrage among social service advocates, many Democrats and even some of the most conservative members of her own party. Angel, co-chair of the Senate Financial Institutions Committee, abruptly closed a meeting where other members hoped to act on the bill.
The money from the fee is used to help low-income people with rent in both public and private housing. Testimony in favor of the bill, which has backing from an array of nonprofit and public groups, indicated it is the No. 1 source of funds to prevent people from slipping into homelessness. Opponents, which include real-estate groups, say a fee on housing transactions isn't an appropriate way to raise the money and they complained about the state Department of Commerce's handling of obligations to report on the use of the money. Adding political intrigue, The Stranger has linked Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, to Angel's blocking of the bill; he acknowledged telling her about his opposition to the bill but denied having told her what to do.
Before Angel asked for a task force, a bipartisan group of legislators held a press conference Thursday to urge that the fee be kept, which was the point of the blocked bill. One of Angel's most conservative Republican colleagues, Sen. Don Benton, joined in the press conference.
Calling for action, Rep. Maureen Walsh, a moderate Republican from Walla Walla, said, "We've got folks living in cars. We've got kids couch surfing all over the place."
A press release issued late Thursday by Angel's office complained that her decision to cut off the committee vote "has caused a flurry of controversy and inaccurate accusations, despite her good intentions."
“I was half an inch away from being homeless myself, so this issue is extremely important to me, despite what others are so quick to assume. People need to understand all of the facts surrounding an issue before they point fingers,” she said in the press release. Her concerns, she said, are "a lack of supporting data and reporting from the state Department of Commerce, strong discord among involved stakeholders, and the fact that the surcharge tax falls on the backs of one small and unpredictable sector."
In a letter, she asked Inslee for create a task force to examine the issue.
It's not at all clear that Inslee will see the need for a new study. Earlier Thursday, he told reporters: "It shouldn't be hard to save funding for the state's homeless."