OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats were forced to hit the replay button Wednesday night and hold another debate on a bill to suspend voter imposed limits on tax increases.
That gave Republicans a chance to once again complain that they were thwarting the “will of the people” by setting aside requirements for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, place such increases on a November ballot for an advisory vote and issue financial projections on any bill that would affect state revenue.
It gave Democrats a chance to once again assert the state was in the worst financial times since the Great Depression and desperate times call for bold action.
In the end, the result was essentially the same. After more than about two hours of debate on various Republican amendments – all of them failed – and the suspension itself, the Senate voted 26-22 to suspend all of I-960 through the first half of next year. After that, all provisions for supermajority passage of tax increases, public advisory votes and fiscal notes would come back into law.
A Tuesday bill that merely suspended the supermajority provisions – although Democrats mistakenly thought it suspended the whole initiative – passed 26-23. The difference Wednesday: Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, was excused.
Between now and then, however, are this year’s session, which is mainly dedicated to fixing an estimated $2.6 billion gap between what the state is expected to collect in taxes and what it would need to pay out for the projects and services it now has.
Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a budget in December that would close that gap strictly by cutting state programs, jobs and services, but she has since said she wants to “buy back” some of those cuts with a combination of new federal money and tax increases.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Democrats will not bring an “all cuts” budget to the Senate floor because it would devastate too many programs for children, the sick and the elderly.
But that means tax increases, which Republicans generally oppose. Even if all Democrats were to vote on a tax increase their leaders proposed, they’d still be one vote shy of the two-thirds majority, and even within their ranks some members are unlikely to support some proposals.
They probably do have, however, a simple majority available for most increases currently being discussed.