Eye On Olympia

The mechanics of — and a preview of the arguments for — a tax increase vote…

Lawmakers have been hinting heavily -- or in a few cases simply saying outright -- that they're likely to ask voters to approve tax increases to offset budget cuts. From an Olympia luncheon with Spokane child-advocates earlier this week:

It’s “more than likely,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said, that Olympia will be coming to voters with a tax proposal “and saying what kind of Washington do you want to live in?”

First, Rep. Timm Ormsby added, lawmakers will put together a budget that doesn’t include any new taxes.

Lawmakers will “put that out and see what kind of stomach the public has for that,” he said, “and go from there.”

So how would such a vote work? According to the Secretary of State's office, lawmakers could pick from already-authorized spring election dates, like April 28 or May 19. Either would give the state Department of Revenue a little lead time to lay the groundwork for additional tax collections at the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

Being lawmakers, they could also simply create their own special election, as was done for the Seahawk's stadium vote several years ago. Other than those, the only scheduled elections are the August primary and November's general election.

And if you're looking for a preview of some of the major arguments to try to convince voters to pay more, see this document, from Senate Democrats. It's titled "Budget Myths vs. Budget Realities," and addresses several of the primary criticisms raised by Republicans.

For example: the argument that the state should just freeze spending:

"That's assuming that the state doesn't allow any children to enter school, doesn't send any more offenders to prison, and passes a law that requires every business that the state does business with to not raise their prices. It's not realistic -- or responsible. Just continuing existing programs for Washington's growing population costs $3 billion."

And for a preview of some potential what-if-we-don't-do-this arguments, see the second page. Under a section entitled "What they're proposing" -- "they" clearly being Republican lawmakers --  the summary argues for preserving General Assistance for the Unemployable, expanding full-day kindergarten and protecting the state's Basic Health Plan.

Brown, meanwhile, wishes reporters were writing as much about potential budget cuts as they are about taxes. On her Senate blog, she cites the case of a Spokane center that treats frail elderly people, saying it would likely close its doors under a nothing-but-cuts budget. Writes Brown:

Everyday I hear from people who are depending on lawmakers not to cut funding to services and jobs that are critical to communities all across the state. And everyday I hear from reporters eager to report on what they see is the big story: when will lawmakers ask voters to raise new revenue to pay for these critical services. The revenue question is always asked in a negative frame – as in, “when are lawmakers going to do exactly what the public hates and decide it’s time to raise new revenue?”

I think this assumes that raising new revenue is the worst thing that can happen in the 2009 session. But hearing from the nurse from North Central Care Center in Spokane and others makes it clear to me that there are far worse things that can happen than that.


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