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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sales tax proposal clears first hurdle

Critics prefer tighter budgeting, pay cuts

Richard Roesler Staff writer

OLYMPIA – A proposed billion-dollar sales tax hike barely cleared its first committee Tuesday, 8 votes to 7.

“We are at a time when people need our help,” said Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, urging state lawmakers to support his plan. “The most vulnerable need us.”

If the House and Senate also approve, the proposal will appear on statewide ballots in November.

Republicans blasted the plan, saying Democratic budget writers should be scrubbing the budget more.

Rep. Joe Schmick suggested cutting state employees’ pay 2 percent or 3 percent or having them pay more than 12 percent of their health coverage cost.

“I’m here to tell you that Washington is hurting,” said Schmick, R-Colfax. “And they’re hurting because they’re overtaxed and they’re overregulated.”

The proposed sales tax increase – 3 cents on a $10 purchase – would partly undo millions of dollars in looming budget cuts to hospitals, nursing homes and other health services. It would raise roughly $350 million a year for three years.

“We have really gone over this budget,” Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, told Schmick. Sending the sales tax to voters, she said, gives the public a chance to reverse some of the most serious cuts lawmakers made.

Pettigrew noted that lawmakers weren’t voting to raise the tax, just to send it to voters.

To offset the effect of the tax on the state’s poorest residents, the measure would give a tax rebate averaging $100 to people who qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. This year, a family of four earning up to $43,415 would qualify.

Some Republicans say the plan is unfair.

“You’re going to be taxing middle-income families struggling to get along and giving that money to lower-middle-class families,” said Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, crossed party lines to vote against the plan. “I believe we are in the crisis of our generation, and we are going to be judged on how we respond with real solutions,” he said.

Pettigrew said he agrees that a sales tax, which hurts low-income people the most, is not ideal. But he said lawmakers have few alternatives.

“When we go back to folks, I want to make sure I can look them in the eye … and say I’ve done everything possible to help you,” he said.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or at richr@spokesman.com. For more news from Olympia, go to www.eyeonolympia.com.
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