Homelessness tops voter ranking of legislative issues. Taxes rank 2nd. Voters want to replace transportation funding cut by I-976.

This looks like another of those times when it’s a lot easier to identify problems than to solve them. Easy solutions to long-standing and growing challenges are rarely available. And in the short legislative session–we’re already on Day 10 of the 60-day session–expectations should be held in check.

Consider the issues voters consider to be critical this year. 

A Crosscut Elway Poll conducted in the final days of 2019 found homelessness to top the rankings of the “most important issues” that the 2020 Legislature should address. Crosscut reporter Melissa Santos wrote January 9,

Homelessness is at the forefront of voters’ minds across Washington state, according to a new poll, with nearly one-third of those surveyed saying the issue should be the top priority for the state Legislature this year…

Respondents mentioned homelessness far more often than the second-ranked issue, taxes, which only 16% of those surveyed said should be a focus for the 2020 Legislature.

Following passage of the I-976 car tabs initiative that drastically cut transportation funding, voters want lawmakers to replace the revenues, reports Santos.

 A clearer majority of poll respondents said they think state lawmakers should find new ways of raising revenue to avoid cutting or delaying transportation projects, something legislators have discussed doing in response to Initiative 976. Voters approved the measure, designed to reduce state and local car-tab fees to a flat $30, in November. 

…Only 26% of voters surveyed in this year’s poll said they thought the Legislature should delay or cut transportation projects in response to I-976. Instead, 58% of the respondents said lawmakers should try to find a new way of raising money for transportation needs.

The governor’s supplemental budget proposed dipping into reserves to fund homelessness programs, making the issue one of his top session priorities. The required supermajority to tap the rainy day fund appears to be out of reach, protecting reserves is also a fiscal priority, but lawmakers acknowledge that the problem should be addressed. James Drew reports in The News Tribune,

Three Republican state lawmakers who represent Pierce County released their plans on Tuesday to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Washington, stressing they want to work with Democrats who control the Legislature.

Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, noted that a recent Crosscut/Elway poll found that voters ranked homelessness as the top issue that lawmakers must address.

“The reality is people are facing housing insecurity. The reality is people are suffering from substance abuse disorder and mental illness. The reality is people are living on our streets and the reality is people are facing unsafe conditions. The people I’m describing are not all homeless, but they are deeply affected by homelessness,” Zeiger said at a press conference.

And,

At an earlier event, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said “homelessness and housing is an area where I think there’s a lot of opportunity to work across the aisle.”

With issues as daunting as homelessness and the collapse of a significant amount of transportation funding, bipartisan solutions can be difficult to find. Public policy has played a role in allowing the problems to emerge and grow. And public policy initiatives, ideally on a bipartisan basis, will be required to ameliorate them.