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Washington lawmakers meet, recess ahead of state of the state

Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, addresses the House on opening day of the Washington legislative session Monday at the Capitol in Olympia.  (Associated Press)
Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, addresses the House on opening day of the Washington legislative session Monday at the Capitol in Olympia. (Associated Press)

Budget problems will be top issue this session

OLYMPIA – Facing a $2.6 billion budget hole and a choice between cutting programs or raising taxes, the Washington Legislature opened Monday with a brief ceremony and repeated references to the fiscal problems. Then both houses went into recess until today, when they’ll hear Gov. Chris Gregoire lay out a new budget plan.

That plan will include a combination of cuts, tax increases, tax cuts and some blanks to be filled in when the federal government decides how much it will spend on economic recovery programs, Gregoire said Monday.

“I will propose some very regrettable cuts tomorrow,” she said after accepting petitions from a coalition of community, environmental and labor groups opposed to an “all cuts” budget she released in December.

She will also propose some “tax relief,” which she described as ending some exemptions from existing taxes that various businesses, services or products enjoy, and some tax cuts to offer incentives for new businesses to start or existing ones to grow.

In his opening address to the state House of Representatives, Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, signaled a choice he wants legislators to make between program cuts and tax increases: “Is this particular tax incentive, exemption, or loophole more important than funding for schools, health care and public safety for our people?”

Shortly after Gregoire spoke, a different coalition headed by perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman held another news conference as they filed a legislative proposal they want on the November ballot. It would require a two-thirds majority to approve any tax increase, something the state already has thanks to a 2007 initiative approved by voters. Some lawmakers want to amend or repeal the 2007 initiative.

Eyman was joined by his longtime lieutenants, recent Spokane City Council candidate Mike Fagan and his father Jack Fagan, as well as legislative Republicans and a representative of the state’s Tea Party organization.

“You cannot tax and spend your way out of a recession,” said state Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake.

Some Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane, have said they will try to amend or repeal the 2007 voter-approved measure – Initiative 960 – as they look for ways to close the budget gap. Eyman’s new initiative would restore the 2007 measure if the initiative’s sponsors gain enough signatures by the end of June and garner a simple majority of voters in November.

Gregoire said Monday that Washington was in danger of becoming like California, “initiatived” to death. If Eyman wanted to get involved in helping the state, he should run for office, she said: “Otherwise, leave it to us.”

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who is part of the coalition supporting the new Eyman initiative, called Gregoire’s suggestion “ludicrous and insulting.”