OLYMPIA – A special legislative session to address the state’s budget problems will continue until one side or the other blinks on the sales tax.
On one side: A majority of Democrats who control the Senate want to increase the sales tax as part of their plan to raise about $800 million in taxes as a balanced plan to close a projected $2.8 billion budget gap.
On the other side: A majority of Democrats who control the House of Representatives, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who want to raise that money with other taxes.
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Last week they came down to two-tenths of 1 percent, from their original three-tenths of 1 percent increase, in an effort to compromise, Brown, D-Spokane, said. But they have problems with some of the other tax increases the House passed Saturday.
Although Gregoire has said she does not support a sales tax increase, she’s never said she would veto a tax bill with one in it, Brown said. If the governor would do that she should say so, but “I think that would be unfortunate, we probably need fewer lines in the sand.”
A few minutes later and two floors lower in the Capitol, Gregoire seemed surprised the Senate continues to insist on a sales tax increase despite her repeated opposition. She wouldn’t vow to veto one, at least not yet, in an effort to give both sides “room to negotiate” but clearly Senate Democrats aren’t getting her message in their private talks. At what point would she make such a public statement?
“When they’re here too long, there are a lot of things I’ll have to say,” she said.
Monday was Day 8 of a special session Gregoire said should last no more than seven days. There was no end in sight, but Brown sketched out the scenario that would lead to the finish: Agreeing on a tax plan is the key to determining other parts of the budget such as spending and leaving money in the treasury for the coming biennium. Once the House and Senate have a tax agreement, they can come to decisions on everything else, amend the bills to reflect that, and pass the same things in both houses. That would likely take a couple days after a tax agreement is reached, Brown said.
Republicans, meanwhile were complaining about the cost of the special session. House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said everyone else should go home until Democrats solve their “family quarrel over which taxes to increase. Once they agree on taxes, we can come back to Olympia and finish up the session in a day or two.”