Eye On Olympia

"And there it was."

One of the coups that House budget writers pulled off this week was plugging an extra $50 million into housing assistance, including help for November's flood victims in southwest Washington, money for a special quick-response fund so affordable-housing builders can buy property quickly and a fund for nonprofit developers.

"We're very pleased with that," House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said in a meeting with capitol reporters yesterday. "That was great."

Less enthusiastic is the state convention and trade center in Seattle, which is where that money and a little more would come from. Calling the move "a drastic reallocation," the convention center is trying to delicately make the case that hey, it had plans for that money.

All told, the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau says, the budget would strip $60 million. Some $55 million of that would come out of the convention center's construction account, which is fed by a slice of state hotel taxes. And another $5 million would come from the center's operating budget.

"This week's state budget proposal stunned Western Washington's tourism community," the visitors bureau said in a press release. At a time when competing cities are investing a lot of cash into their convention centers, convention center president John Christison said, taking the money "would severely impact the convention center's marketability."

And the convention center has already done a lot for affordable housing, the press release says. Since 1984, it says, nearly $10 million in convention center dollars have spawned a dozen new or rehabilitated apartment buildings with 831 low-income units.

That, it seems, is what gave Chopp the idea. During a center expansion years ago, he said, he made sure money was set aside to replace units lost to the growth.

"I said `Hey, let's check it again and see if we can get some more for housing,'" he said. "And there it was."




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