Gov. Jay Inslee’s team does a nice job of exploiting the budget-rollout process in December to frame his agenda¹ for the coming session. That has the effect of kinda stepping on the State of the State speech nearly a month in advance. Last week’s speech was very much in that vein: There wasn’t much new news among the branches-of-government² formalities.
Inslee opened with a bipartisan call for aggressive spending on housing, homelessness, behavioral health, and education and closed with the decidedly partisan issues of gun control and abortion rights. However, the constitutional amendment at the center of his abortion-rights proposal will require GOP votes to make it to the voters this fall.
The $4 billion housing proposal was received with budget-minded skepticism; the abortion plan is likely a nonstarter. An omen: Republicans stayed seated while Democrats rose to cheer for the abortion-rights proposal.
In both Rep. Peter Abbarno’s formal response to the State of the State and a GOP news conference afterward, Republicans noted that the housing crisis and homelessness have worsened significantly in the decade that Inslee’s been in office.
Bill targets homeowners associations’ powers
Washington’s housing crisis is pushing lawmakers to get creative. Case in point: Rep. Amy Walen’s House Bill 1054, which aims to free up vacant bedrooms by stripping homeowners’ associations of power.
Most people think of HOAs as those busybodies who dictate when you take down the holiday lights and how big an RV you can park in the driveway. But they have a long and sometimes ugly legacy of keeping people they don’t like out of fancy neighborhoods and buildings.
Walen, D-Kirkland, wants to keep HOAs from capping the number of unrelated people living together, an idea geared at letting empty nesters offer spare bedrooms to the poor and downtrodden or rent them out. It stands to help out first-time homebuyers split the cost of a house with roommates.
On Monday, the bills drew thumbs up from YIMBYs⁴ of all stripes in the House Housing Committee, from Patrick Johansen of RiseUp Washington to Kirkland City Councilor Toby Nixon. Nixon — known to political nerds as a former GOP lawmaker and head of the Washington Coalition for Open Government — told the committee that he wound up getting himself elected president of his HOA after it forbade him from opening his eight-bedroom home to folks in need.
Opposition came from Valerie Farris Oman, a partner with Condominium Law Group, and Brian Mackey, an officer of the Wynbrook II HOA. The bill is up for executive action on Thursday. — Tim Gruver
Ferguson re-floats a break for the news business
Attorney General Bob Ferguson is throwing his weight behind a proposal to zero out the business and occupation tax for newspapers and online news organizations. This is an expanded version of a proposal from Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, last year.
Mullet’s bill, which we wrote about, was just for hard-copy newspapers and was inspired by the closure of local weeklies in his East King County district. Ferguson’s version, which Mullet sponsored as Senate Bill 5199, includes online news organizations with between two and 50 employees.⁶ The number seems tailored to help homegrown organizations such as Crosscut while freezing out the likes of Axios.
As we noted last year, the newspaper part has its issues. Here’s where the money — a paltry $1 million by state budget standards — would flow: Two big chunks would go to the state’s largest dailies, The Seattle Times and the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, which have been owned by prominent, wealthy local families in those places for decades. The Seattle Times owned (and closed) two of those weekly papers Mullet was talking about.
Another big piece would flow to Sacramento-based McClatchy, one of the country’s largest newspaper chains, which owns The News-Tribune of Tacoma, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald, and the Tri-City Herald. McClatchy’s many financial woes have led to bloody newsroom cuts that turned many of its papers into zombies. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2020 and a hedge fund bought most of its assets later that year.
And finally, a third big bucket — made up of many little buckets — would flow to Sound Publishing, which has been aggressively buying up weeklies and small dailies in Washington for years. Sound Publishing is actually a subsidiary of Black Press Media, based in British Columbia, which owns some 150 publications. That includes more than 30 Washington news outlets. The company has a well-earned reputation for ruthlessly exploiting entry-level journalists with long hours and low pay.⁷
Mullet’s bill died in committee last year, but Rep. Gerry Pollett, D-Seattle, has a companion measure in the House, and the AG wasn’t in before. As an aside, we note that the attorney general has an unusually large slate of 10 mostly media-friendly bills he’d like to get passed this year. Might have something to do with this.
1. We think of this as the legacy of David Postman, Inslee’s former communications director and chief of staff, a former Seattle Times political reporter who knew how to exploit a slow December news cycle.
2. On a civics-nerd note, we really enjoyed the ritual expulsion of both Inslee and the Senate from the House chamber at the end of the speech. Good to remember this maxim: The other party may be the opposition, but the other chamber is the enemy.
3. Correlation≠causation. Also, it should be noted that Republicans held the Senate and blocked much of Inslee’s agenda for the first half of that decade.
4. For those of you unfamiliar with land-use debates, “YIMBY” stands for Yes In My Back Yard, as opposed to the better-established “NIMBY.” NIMBYs would argue that YIMBY should actually stand for Yes In Somebody Else’s Back Yard.
5. Because the Observer is an LLC owned by me, only Tim Gruver counts as an employee. To be clear, we’re not lobbying; former Sen. Reuven Carlyle largely took care of us last year when he got the B&O tax exemption for small businesses expanded.
6. For example, this reporter job at The Herald of Everett has a salary range of $16.50-$18 per hour.
A version of this report first appeared in The Morning Wire, a free midweek update from The Washington Observer, which tracks politics, government, and the influence thereof in Washington State.