OLYMPIA – In a scene repeated across Washington, sign-carrying state workers at the Capitol on Tuesday called on lawmakers to look at raising taxes to offset some deep budget cuts.
“Hey hey, ho ho, an all-cuts budget’s got to go,” they chanted.
The rally was one of more than 60 such events statewide, including rallies in Medical Lake, Cheney and outside several state offices in Spokane.
Given Washington’s $8.5 billion budget shortfall, state workers have little hope of getting the 2 percent cost of living increases they’d expected for this year and next. But budget decisions made in the next few weeks in Olympia could have profound effects on state jobs, programs and services.
“The only thing we’re concerned about is what is quality of life going to look like under an all-cuts budget,” said Carol Dotlich, with the Washington Federation of State Employees.
In past years, the union has turned out thousands of workers on the Capitol lawn. This time, executive director Greg Devereux said the federation felt it was more important to relay the message from as many lawmakers’ districts as possible.
A few hundred yards away, a smaller group of anti-tax advocates held a “Push back, no tax” rally of their own. With families across the state struggling with their budgets, people can’t afford more taxes, said the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Amber Gunn.
“It’s not an ideal world. This is reality,” she said. State revenue over the next two years is still forecast to increase – albeit barely – she said. And her side argues that the term “all-cuts” is misleading when the state will actually collect slightly more money than in the last two years.
“A reduction in an increase is not the same thing as a real decrease,” Gunn said.
Two state lawmakers spoke at the federation’s rally.
Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, noted that state lawmakers are state employees, too. But he warned that the upcoming budget will be “drastic.”
If layoffs come, Hunt said, he’d like to see them start with supervisors. This drew a cheer.
“And as a last resort, we reduce line workers,” he told the crowd, “… because that is the guts and glory of state service.”
Sen. Karen Fraser, also D-Olympia, told the workers that it’s important to get out the message of how critical state services are.
“It’s very important that people understand this,” she said. “… Once these horrible cuts come out, you’re going to hear people talking about how important you are.”
Both sides plan more and bigger rallies in the coming weeks.