Gov. Mike Lowry is quick to defend his 1996 budget and its relatively small tax cut, which is taking a pounding by political allies and enemies alike.
But he concedes, almost as quickly, that the tax cut is one of the first things he’s willing to negotiate in the upcoming session of the Legislature.
“I want to get the level of a permanent tax cut down,” Lowry said Tuesday in an interview with The Spokesman-Review editorial board.
He also is unabashed by the budget’s proposal to give state employees a six-tenths of a percent raise next year, to help offset higher health insurance costs.
“I frankly am tired of public employees getting pounded all the time,” he said. “They deserve to have their boss stand up for them, for the good job that they do.”
State workers earn an average of more than $34,500 per year - about $11,000 more than the average Spokane worker. The raise will be a difficult sell, Lowry conceded. But everything about the budget will be difficult in 1996.
The proposed budget was criticized by both the Republicans who control the House and Democrats who run the Senate when it was released Monday.
Both want tax cuts of about $350 million, because the state is running a surplus in the money it is collecting from state residents, shoppers and businesses.
Lowry says a tax cut that big is irresponsible. If everyone wasn’t worried about the 1996 elections, they’d delay tax cuts for a year, until the federal government changes welfare, Medicaid and other programs.
But even the governor - who is also up for re-election next year - has to have some proposal. Thus, he is suggesting about $63 million in tax cuts. Part of that amount, however, is technically a deferral of property taxes for some residents who earn less than $50,000 a year.
People below that income level who pay more than 5 percent of their income in property taxes could delay paying part of their tax bills until they sell their home. They would pay interest on the amount they defer.
“We’re addressing what the problem with property taxes is,” the governor said. “This is for people in a bind…who have to move out of their home because of rising taxes or property values.”
Lowry said the Legislature has to remember that any tax cuts passed and signed next year likely will be permanent.
The state’s voters passed a law in 1993 that requires a super majority of the Legislature to approve new taxes. Getting that super majority is highly unlikely, Lowry said.
Lowry said he expects - and in some ways even respects - House Republicans in their call for tax cuts. They have a long-standing philosophy that taxes are too high.
But he snapped back at Senate Democrats, who also are calling for large tax cuts, while asking for more money for higher education.
“One Republican Party is enough.”
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