$1M of State money for The Jungle: not (quite) what you heard

We all heard last week that the Washington State Legislature has allocated $1 million for building a razor wire fence around the unsanctioned encampment under three miles of I-5 known as “The Jungle.” This morning during the Council Briefing we learned more, and the details are a bit different.

The conversation happened during the Office of Intergovernmental Relations’ (OIR) weekly update on the ongoing legislative session in Olympia.  OIR staff reported that there is $1 million in the state transportation budget for addressing the Jungle, but the budget doesn’t specify what the money should be used for — there is no earmarking for a razor-wire fence, or for any other specific purpose. It would be left to the discretion of WSDOT (which owns the land under I-5) on how to spend the money.

Council member Gonzalez did interject, however, that the 18th Amendment of the Washington State Constitution prevents the funds from being spent on anything other than highway funds — so it could be used for a fence, for dealing with stormwater runoff, and/or for cleaning up the area, but it can’t be used for expanding human services.

(Actually that, may not be entirely true: Amendment 18 prevents revenues from the gas tax and vehicle license fees from being spent for anything other than highways.  But if the legislature directed general funds to this purpose, rather than the restricted revenues sources, there would be no restrictions on its use. I will try to track this down today)

All that said, several Council members expressed their horror at the notion of building a razor-wire fence around the area, including Bagshaw, Sawant and Juarez (who called in “insane.”  Council member Burgess sounded a different note, encouraging his colleagues to read the full assessment report and saying that there may or may not be good reasons to fence off some areas in the interest of safety — including the safety of the people living there.

As of now, the state budget is far from done: the House and Senate have each passed their version and reconciliation is underway.  And given the revenue shortfall, we’ll see what makes the final cut.