Way back on October 3, three of my fellow Republican senators publicly announced a package of ideas for improving how state government approaches mental-health treatment.
On Wednesday, the Senate’s Democrat majority announced the creation of a policy subcommittee on behavioral health.
On November 13, three of my fellow Republican senators publicly announced a package of ideas for addressing the intertwined issues of affordable housing and homelessness.
Two weeks later, also this past Wednesday, the Senate’s Democrat majority announced the creation of a policy committee on housing stability and affordability.
Is it coincidence that Democrats came up with new committees which mirror Republican proposals? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the changes surely were meant to send a signal, and we applaud it.
So with the 2019 session about six weeks away, Democrats appear to be agreeing with Republicans that mental-health treatment and the tandem of affordable housing and homelessness are major priorities. But with Republican ideas already on the table (packages that are “robust,” as a TVW program host recently said to me), what proposals will Democrats put forth, and when?
I’ve been a legislator long enough to recognize that Democrats in Olympia often see “more money” as the primary solution to major issues, while Republicans prefer solutions that include money but also policy changes that put dollars to better use. After all, it wasn’t the House Democrats who loaded up the 2015 “Connecting Washington” transportation package with cost-stretching reforms to go with the new revenue. And we might be farther down the road to McCleary 2.0 if (besides approving more funding) our Republican-led majority coalition had not insisted on overhauling the school levy-related policies that were central to the original McCleary ruling in 2012.
Unlike K-12, there isn’t a constitutional hammer when it comes to mental health and housing/homelessness. Still, these are complicated issues with vocal interests on all sides. And obviously, “more money” hasn’t helped – look at the hundreds of millions spent in King County alone on addressing homelessness, with no significant progress. That’s why Republicans are ready to look at policies that affect the supply of housing, like the Growth Management Act, because of how supply affects affordability.
I can hear it now: you just want to use homelessness as an excuse to dismantle the GMA. No, we just recognize that the GMA, which has changed little since its creation in 1990, couldn’t anticipate things like Amazon.com and the steady migration of people into the Puget Sound area. We’re not talking about the Ten Commandments, or something in Washington’s constitution. The GMA is a law, and it can and should be brought into the 21st century.
I suspect the positions are less entrenched when it comes to mental-health treatment. That said, the loss of $53 million in federal funding – annually, due to Governor Inslee’s inability to oversee the operation of Western State Hospital – couldn’t have come at a worse time. Imagine having that much money to use for supporting policy improvements, instead of diverting it to backfill a funding hole.
I look forward to seeing the ideas my Democrat colleagues have to offer.
You can watch the respective news conferences below.
Addressing Mental Health:
Housing Affordability and Homelessness: