OLYMPIA – There was no drama, but plenty of theatrics, as Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill Wednesday making it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes.
Gregoire signed a 16-month suspension of some provisions of Initiative 960 as its prime sponsor Tim Eyman looked on, at one point holding his nose and pointing one thumb down.
“Now, you must behave,” Gregoire told Eyman at one point.
“I am behaving. This is my self-control,” he replied.
Gregoire said she considered but ultimately rejected suggestions from Republican legislators that even if she signed the suspension of the two-thirds majority to pass a tax increase, she should veto the suspension of statewide advisory votes and listings of legislators’ tax votes in the state-produced Voters Pamphlet.
She signed the bill as passed and said Eyman could have a ceremonial pen. He took extra.
Current budget proposals have an array of tax increases, which could mean as many as 26 separate advisory items on the November ballot, Gregoire said. Legislators have no choice but to balance program cuts with tax increases to get the state through the worst economy since the Great Depression, she added. Even if the voters advised against some or all of those taxes, the taxes couldn’t be lifted.
“The Legislature is stuck where it is, and I’m stuck where I am,” she said. “To ask for an advisory vote and then not follow it, I think, would add to the cynicism of the people of the state.”
While Republicans have complained the Legislature should have at least submitted a tax package first to see if it could get a supermajority, Gregoire noted that they oppose any tax increases and have not produced an alternative plan saying what they’d be willing to cut.
“If the Republicans have a better budget, I’d like to see it,” she said.
A few hours earlier, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Joe Zarelli, seemed to anticipate such criticism. Although the GOP hasn’t produced a counter-budget, he said, it has fought unsuccessfully against a series of decisions it contends have damaged the state’s business climate and finances in the past eight years. He released a list spanning more than four pages.
Democrats are proposing tax increases to fill a hole without thinking them through, Zarelli said, adding that tax policy should be made methodically and deliberately.
House Democrats, meanwhile, postponed a planned announcement of their tax proposal, which was missing from the budget they released on Tuesday. The House Democrats want to raise $857 million in taxes to help fill the state’s $2.8 billion budget gap, but they don’t say how they plan to get that money.
The Senate, meanwhile, began hearings on its tax proposals. Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the tax package or “revenue piece” will be the most difficult part of the budget on which to get agreement: “Everything could change between now and the end of the session.”