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Lawmakers Bog Down On Tax Cuts House Approves Override, But Senate Gets Entangled

Wasting no time Monday, legislators ensnared themselves in a fight over tax cuts within hours of the opening gavel of the 1996 legislative session.

As promised, the House voted to override vetoes by Gov. Mike Lowry last spring of two tax cut bills.

Many House Republicans, who have threatened the overrides for months, sported yellow smiley-face buttons with the smile formed by the word “override,” misspelled with only one “r.”

But the Senate became mired in parliamentary wrangles and failed to deliver its tax cut on opening day as promised.

“This is exactly the kind of thing the public is tired of,” said Sen. Nita Rinehart, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “The support for this is there; the votes are there. There’s no reason not to do this today.

“The Republicans tell us their boxes aren’t unpacked yet. Or they want to amend the bill. Or they want us to override the governor’s veto instead of passing our own bill. Excuses.”

Republican senators didn’t want to steal the House GOP’s glory by letting the Democrat-controlled Senate pass equivalent tax cut bills on the same day, some said.

“We are supporting our House colleagues,” said Sen. James West, R-Spokane.

The Senate will try to pass the tax cut package again today.

The bills would trim taxes by more than $220 million. One bill would slice the 1993 increase in the state business and occupation tax in half. The other would reduce the state’s share of the property tax by half, which would save the owner of a $100,000 house about $20 a year.

Tax cut opponents were happy to see the Senate snafu, hoping for anything to gum up the works.

Three of the most powerful unions in Olympia - the State Labor Council, the teachers union and the Federation of State Employees - turned out to bash the tax cut at a press conference.

Environmental groups, church groups, women’s advocates and advocates for senior citizens and children also joined the opposition.

They warned against cutting taxes now while Congress is eyeing deep cuts in money earmarked for state programs.

The Democratic tax cuts alienated their traditional supporters. But instead of satisfying business interests and the GOP, Democrats appear merely to have set the floor of tax cut negotiations.

Senate Republicans now say the B&O; tax should be rolled all the way back to 1993 levels, not just halfway. Many business interests agree.

Lowry opposes the cuts, which he says the state can’t afford because of looming federal budget reductions.

But lawmakers are pushing the cuts in both parties and both houses. It seems only a question of how, not if, the cuts will be adopted.

For Rep. Duane Sommers, R-Spokane, just sworn in to take former Rep. Todd Mielke’s place, casting his first big vote on the veto override didn’t go quite as planned.

Sommers voted “yes” with alacrity, giving the big green button on his desk a good stiff shove. Yet, his vote was recorded as “no” with a big red light on the electronic tote board behind the speaker’s rostrum.

Meanwhile, Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, was incensed to find her equally heartfelt “no” recorded as a big green “yes.”

The electronic mix-up was set straight - but not until each got some startled looks from colleagues.

“People were looking daggers at me,” Duane Sommers said. “They thought I had lost my mind.”

, DataTimes