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WA Lege Day 56: Tax package passes—barely

OLYMPIA -- With not a vote to spare, Senate Democrats approved an $805 million tax package that includes hikes in sales and business taxes, sending it to the House for an almost certain overhaul.

After four hours of debate and parliamentary maneuvering Saturday, and two more today, the Senate voted 25-23 on the SB 6143, which has 21 separate changes to the state's tax laws. It's part of a balance approach to the state's $2.8 billion budget shortfall, Democrats said. It's a job killer, Republicans said.

Among Spokane area legislators, Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D, voted yes. Sens. Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler, both R, and Chris Marr, D, voted no.


The proposal closes loopholes, responds to court rulings and reforms some taxes, said Brown.  It also offers a tax rebate for low- and moderate-income familes, who may be hit hardest by the three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax, and a tax break for small service businesses to help defray the bump in the business and occupation tax.

“We have managed to balance our budget by passing this,” Brown said.

State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Democrats should have cut more, and cut sooner because the budget problems have been known since last July: “Something could have been done in a special session, or early in this session. The sacred cows are still going to graze on the Capitol lawn, and taxes are going to go up.”

Some legislators read messages from constituents in their home district, quoted the Declaration of Independence or mentioned family members who would be affected by higher taxes or cut state aid.

Some made pop culture references. State Sen. Randy Gordon, D-Bellevue, said Democrats put the tax package together with limited options, the way astronauts put together a solution to the space ship in “Apollo 13.” State Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said the tax increases represent an “end of an era when people had thoughts and dreams, like the lyrics of “Miss American Pie.”

The proposal now heads to the House, which has different ideas on what taxes to raise and by how much, and different amounts it wants to cut from the state’s general fund budget.

Marr said he voted no because he thinks his colleagues are out of sync with the public, not cutting enough while raising taxes too much.

“It’s clear to me we’re over-reaching,” Marr said. But the taxes may be the “high water mark” for tax proposals, and when measure that comes back from the House may have a lower total and no sales tax increase because Speaker Frank Chopp opposes that, he added.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.