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Senate Republicans form “Tax Watchdog Committee”

Responding to Governor Inslee’s proposal to pull millions from the state’s emergency fund to pay for homeless services, as well as what the caucus is calling a “high-handed response to I-976,” Senate Republicans have announced the formation of an internal “Tax Watchdog Committee” to monitor new tax increases.

In a statement unveiling the committee along with their approach to the 2020 session, Senate Republicans called out what they see as a sense of frustration among Washington voters with a “political establishment that has done all it can to thwart their vote last November to reduce car-tab taxes,” as well as a “pervasive lack of trust and confidence in state and local government.”   

The committee will consist of four senior members of the Senate Republican Caucus: Randi Becker, John Braun, Steve O’Ban, and Phil Fortunato. 

What I hear a lot right now is that people feel like government doesn’t really care about their wishes – that what they want doesn’t matter,” said Sen. Becker. “They feel attacked and belittled.”

Chief among the areas cited by the committee as a subject for scrutiny is spending for homelessness programs.

Citing a “billion-dollar housing industrial complex,” or what some conservative think tanks refer to as the “homeless industrial complex”, Senate Republicans underscored their wish for an audit of the organizations that receive state funds to provide shelter and services to the homeless population.

The conservative leaning California Policy Center defines the “homeless industrial complex” as a process wherein “Developers accept public money to build projects to house the homeless – either ‘bridge housing’ or ‘permanent supportive housing.’ Cities and counties collect building fees and hire bureaucrats for oversight. The projects are then handed off to nonprofits with long term contracts to run them.”

Reiterating their call for a closer look at the use of taxpayer money, the caucus also mentioned last month’s revelation that the former Pierce County Housing Authority finance director was discovered to have stolen roughly $7 million in taxpayer money.

We really need to get a handle on where money is already going, how it’s being spent and what kind of results we’re getting because mismanagement of the taxpayers’ money could be one reason why homelessness is getting worse,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler. “That’s our responsibility to taxpayers and those who depend on services.”

Governor’s Inslee supplemental budget proposal, which includes $319 million in spending aimed at reducing homelessness, did not include any new tax increases. The state operates on a two-year $52.4 billion budget. In the 2020 session, lawmakers will make adjustments to the operating budget the legislature approved last April.