OLYMPIA – There was no drama, but plenty of theatrics, as Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill Wednesday making it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes.
Gregoire signed a 16-month suspension of some provisions of Initiative 960 as its prime sponsor Tim Eyman looked on, sometimes with a disapproving frown on his face, at one point holding his nose and pointing one thumb down.
“Now, you must behave,” Gregoire told Eyman at one point.
“I am behaving. This is my self-control,” he replied.
She signed the bill as passed, and said Eyman could have a ceremonial pen. He took extra.
Current budget proposals have an array of tax increases, which could mean as many as 26 separate advisory items on the November ballot, Gregoire said. Legislators have no choice but to balance program cuts with tax increases to get the state through the worst economy since the Great Depression, she added. Even if the voters advised against some or all of those taxes, the taxes couldn’t be lifted.
“The Legislature is stuck where it is, and I’m stuck where I am,” she said. “To ask for an advisory vote and then not follow it, I think, would add to the cynicism of the people of the state.”
None of the votes legislators take are secret, she added. And while Republicans have complained the Legislature should have at least submitted a tax package first to see if it could get a supermajority, Gregoire noted they oppose any tax increases and have not produced an alternative plan saying what they’d be willing to cut.
“If the Republicans have a better budget, I’d like to see it,” she said.
A few hours earlier, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Joe Zarelli, seemed to anticipate such criticism. Although the GOP hasn’t produced a counter budget, he said, it has fought unsuccessfully against a series of decisions that have damaged the state’s business climate and finances in the last eight years. He released a list that spanned more than four pages.
Democrats are proposing tax increases to fill a hole, without thinking them through, Zarelli said. Tax policy should be made methodically and deliberately.
House Democrats, meanwhile, postponed indefinitely a planned announcement of their tax proposal, which was missing from the budget they released on Tuesday. The House Democrats want to raise $857 million in taxes as part of solution to the state’s $2.8 billion budget gap, but don’t say how they plan to get that money.
The Senate, meanwhile, began hearings on its tax proposals. Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the tax package or “revenue piece” will be the most difficult part of the budget on which to get agreement: “Everything could change between now and the end of the session.”