Homelessness is quickly becoming an issue in the race for state auditor, even though the job historically has dealt mainly with financial accounting and little with helping people get off the streets.
In making his pitch for the job Wednesday, state Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, attacked his Democratic rival Pat McCarthy over the number of homeless people living in Pierce County, calling it a “crisis” she had failed to address in two terms as county executive.
A recent point-in-time count found the number of homeless people in Pierce County was on the rise.
“I don’t know if anybody is happy with what’s going on with homelessness in Pierce County — (it’s) out of control,” Miloscia said Wednesday at a candidate forum held by the Association of Washington Business.
“There has been a crisis of homelessness going on for three years there, but still no audit, no evaluation, no change of track,” he said later during the hourlong question-and-answer session.
McCarthy, in turn, accused Miloscia of focusing on an issue she said has nothing to do with the job of being the state’s top government watchdog, and said he was engaging in political pandering during an election year.
“Everyone knows our region’s homelessness crisis is a very important issue,” McCarthy said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Everyone also knows that is not what an election for state auditor is all about.”
Miloscia’s comments at the candidate forum came the day after he held a press conference in Seattle announcing a plan to ban homeless encampments on sidewalks and in most public areas, as well as to impose financial penalties against local governments that don’t enforce the law.
The press conference followed a driver hitting and killing a man sleeping in a tent Monday in a homeless encampment off Interstate 5, near Seattle’s University District.
Miloscia, who previously ran for auditor as a Democrat before switching parties in 2014, said homelessness is a legitimate topic in the auditor’s race because it shows how government funds haven’t been spent effectively to solve the problem.
The auditor is tasked with rooting out fraud and waste and conducting financial audits of government programs.
Miloscia said he particularly opposes an idea of creating safe-consumption spaces where addicts can consume drugs under medical supervision, a concept recently endorsed by a heroin task force convened by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
“When we have illegal encampments on state and local land, and the money is being wasted supporting things like illegal drug-use injection sites, that is certainly an issue for the Auditor’s Office,” he said.
Miloscia said he will introduce his homelessness legislation in December in his capacity as a state senator. Should he win the race for auditor, Miloscia wouldn’t be sworn in until January.
McCarthy said Miloscia is talking about homelessness issues in the auditor campaign merely to distract from his lack of executive experience. McCarthy has been county executive since 2009 and was the county auditor for six years before that.
“He wants to make it about something other than he doesn’t have experience running a large government agency,” she said.
During her time as executive, McCarthy has supported enacting a one-tenth of a percent sales tax to help fund mental health programs, a measure she said would help reduce chronic homelessness in the county.
The proposal has not received the five necessary votes to pass the County Council, which has a 4-3 Republican majority.
Miloscia, meanwhile, says he has valuable knowledge of auditing and efficiency measures from conducting audits for the Air Force, as well as serving as a former executive at Tacoma Goodwill. He also served 14 years in the state House before being elected to the state Senate in 2014.
Miloscia and McCarthy are competing to replace outgoing Auditor Troy Kelley, who defeated Miloscia in the 2012 primary election and later was indicted by federal prosecutors over allegations concerning his past real estate business.
In April, a jury acquitted Kelley on one charge and deadlocked on 14 others, but the Tacoma Democrat still decided not to seek a second term.