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Eye On Olympia

Lisa Brown: Amid pressure to cut the budget quicker, Brown says wait for next week’s federal and state figures…

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, writing on her blog, says that the federal stimulus bill “is not a state bailout bill.”

The money it includes for state “is just not big enough to make up for the deep dive our state revenues have taken” she writes. And the Senate version had less than originally proposed for both state budgets and building/renovating schools. Writes Brown:

The tax cuts in the bill are popular and everyone could use a little extra cash, but from an economic stimulus perspective, direct infrastructure investment would create more jobs and more flexible allocations to states would save more jobs.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Brown’s Republican colleagues have both said that they’re frustrated by Democratic legislative leaders’ slow pace enacting cuts. Brown has said that she didn’t want to cut people off of health care or aid, for example, only to find out later that federal help or changing economic news rendered those cuts unecessary.

Two key numbers will come next week, Brown writes. On Monday, President Obama’s slated to sign the final version of the stimulus bill. And on Thursday (Brown says Tuesday in the blog post), the state’s economic weather forecasters will deliver an unusual early “preliminary forecast” of state revenues.

Brown’s clearly not expecting good news, writing that those two numbers will give lawmakers critical information “about how much larger our budget-writing challenge is than the one facing the governor just two months ago.” She writes:

“That’s when our conversation with the public about a positive direction forward will begin in earnest.”

What’s that mean? Turning to the public and asking for support of at least some additional taxes in order to support critical programs. Unlike Gregoire, who pledged — and delivered — a no-new-taxes budget proposal, Brown has for months been hinting that the solution the state’s deep budget woes is likely to include some tax increases. That, after all, is what’s happened in Olympia in every other economic downturn for the past 40 years.

And Brown is convinced that voters, if shown the need, will support paying more. In late 2002, for example, Washingtonians supported a 9-cent gas tax increase and vehicle sales tax hike in order to raise billions of dollars for transportation projects across the state. They voted to make it easier for schools to raise property taxes. Locally, voters in Spokane have increased their own taxes to pay for mental health treatment, and in Central Puget Sound, as recently as December, they’ve done the same thing for rail and transportation projects.

Brown is largely sticking to a course of action she laid out more than two months ago at a legislative forum hosted by Greater Spokane Inc., a local business group.  In this clip, watch how she responds to budget criticism from Rep. Bill Hinkle, a Republican from Cle Elum.

(Tech note: This works in Internet Explorer and Safari; I haven’t gotten it to work in Firefox. Also, to replay this clip, hit refresh on your browser first.)


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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