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Washington Senate narrowly approves tax plan

Mon., March 8, 2010

Brown says proposal balances state budget

OLYMPIA – With not a vote to spare, Washington Senate Democrats on Sunday approved an $805 million tax package that includes hikes in sales and business taxes, sending it to the House for an almost certain overhaul.

After four hours of debate and parliamentary maneuvering Saturday, and two more Sunday, the Senate voted 25-23 to approve 21 separate changes to the state’s tax laws. Six Democrats, including state Sen. Chris Marr of Spokane, opposed it, as did all Republicans. A bill to add an extra $1-per-pack cigarette tax, bringing the state an extra $86 million, passed on a 29-19 vote.

It’s part of a balanced approach to the state’s $2.8 billion budget shortfall, Democrats said.

The proposal closes loopholes, responds to court rulings and reforms some taxes, said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, of Spokane. It also offers a tax rebate for low- and moderate-income families who may be hit hardest by the three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax, and a tax break for small service businesses to help defray the bump in the business and occupation tax.

“We have managed to balance our budget by passing this,” Brown said.

It’s a job-killer, Republicans said.

State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Democrats should have cut more, and cut sooner because the budget problems have been known since last July: “Something could have been done in a special session, or early in this session. The sacred cows are still going to graze on the Capitol lawn, and taxes are going to go up.”

Some legislators read messages from constituents in their home district, quoted the Declaration of Independence, or mentioned family members who would be affected by higher taxes or lowered state aid.

State Sen. Randy Gordon, D-Bellevue, said Democrats put the tax package together with limited options, the way astronauts put together a solution to the spaceship in “Apollo 13.” State Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said the tax increases represent the “end of an era when people had thoughts and dreams, like the lyrics of ‘Miss American Pie.’ ”

Marr said he voted no because he thinks his colleagues are out of sync with the public, not cutting enough while raising taxes too much.

“It’s clear to me we’re overreaching,” Marr said. But the taxes may be the “high-water mark” for tax proposals, and the measure that comes back from the House may have a lower total and no sales tax increase because Speaker Frank Chopp opposes that, he added.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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