October 17, 1996 in City

Craswell Tries To Ease Budget Fears In Debate Says Tax Cuts To Be Phased In Gradually If She’s Elected

Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer

Ellen Craswell, the Republican nominee for governor, tried to ease fears raised by her radical budget plan Wednesday, saying that if it requires spending cuts as deep as her proposed tax cuts, “I suspect it will never happen.”

She offered the explanation to an audience of more than 500 at a downtown hotel in a debate with Democrat Gary Locke.

Craswell has made elimination of the state business and occupation tax, motor vehicle excise tax and the state’s share of the property tax a centerpiece of her campaign. Together, they provide 34 percent of state revenues.

She says she wants to repeal the taxes in four years, but that doesn’t mean she’d cut spending just as much to make up the difference.

The candidate promised a gradual approach instead. Craswell said she would push to cut the three taxes by 15 percent the first two years of her term, “then see what happens to the economy.”

She is assuming that cutting taxes will spur the economy and generate more revenue, not less. If it works, Craswell says she would be able to keep cutting taxes without chopping spending equally.

Locke, 46, relentlessly attacked her plan, asking where she’d reduce spending to make up for her cuts.

Because she isn’t allowed by law to cut basic education, her cuts would have to come from the remaining half of the state budget, Locke said.

“Your math may be good, but your premise is wrong,” Craswell said. “I never said I would cut the budget that much.”

But Craswell left little doubt about how little faith she has in the validity of most state government spending and regulations. Even free and reduced-price lunch and breakfast programs for needy children need review, she said.

“I don’t think we should routinely say parents don’t need to bother with breakfast or lunch because it’s going to be free. That’s a program that needs to be scrutinized,” said Craswell, 64.

More than 30 percent of kids enrolled in public schools qualify for free and reduced-priced meals subsidized with state and federal money. Participation in the program is based on income.

Pressed by debate moderators, Craswell stuck by some of her more startling campaign statements.

Some in the audience shook their heads in wonder when Craswell maintained her view that gay people die 30 to 35 years sooner than heterosexuals.

She admitted there is no scientific study backing her claim. “That might not be there,” Craswell said. She said her statement was based on “an exhaustive study of obituaries.”

She also repeated her opposition to legislation to outlaw discrimination against gay people, saying “special rights should not be granted on the basis of sexual behavior, as it can be changed.”

Locke, who introduced a gay-rights bill repeatedly during his 11 years in the House, pounced on that, saying freedom from discrimination in housing and employment is not a special right, “but an equal right for all people.”

The debate, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Seattle, was the first time the candidates got to question each other without time limits.

Locke took full advantage. He rattled on about budget statistics while reporters yawned and rubbed their eyes, and Craswell sat patiently by, too polite to break in.

A moderator finally interrupted Locke, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, saying, “Ellen, do you want to comment?”

When she did it was with a zinger that brought the only laugh of the day. “You are talking a whole lot like a Lowry liberal,” she snapped.

Craswell, who served in the Legislature for 16 years, said the biggest of many differences between her and Locke, the King County executive, is in their basic approach to government.

“Gary is quick to promise money to everyone who wants something for their program,” Craswell said. “I think we have to do what business is: getting more for our dollars. That’s my approach.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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