This Washington

A Few Dissident Republicans and One Dissident Democrat Vote 'No' on Special Session Mini-Budget

By Josh Feit December 14, 2011

The state senate voted 42-6 today to pass about $320 million in cuts and $100 million in fund transfers making its first attempt at dealing with a $1.5 billion shortfall. The house passed the same "early action" budget yesterday, 86-8.

Gov. Gregoire called a special session this month asking the legislature to pass $2 billion in cuts, combined with a temporary 0.5 percent sales tax increase for about $500 million in new revenue to "buy back" cuts she deemed unacceptable, such as a $411 million cut to education.

Both state senate budget leader Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Seattle) and state house budget chair Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) defended lawmakers' minimal first pass at the assignment, calling it a "down payment on the overall solution" and explaining there was no way to hammer out a budget agreement in the one-month run-up to the holidays.

They were more colorful in person.

Murray told us: “The disappointing thing is people thinking the legislature is just supposed to rubber stamp what the executive has proposed.”

And Hunter said, “Because the governor’s budget has problems. For example, she made unconstitutional cuts to K-12 and she also made cuts to K-12 that are deeply unpopular. And there are painful higher ed cuts that are making people insane. The governor took two months to get to one vote. I’ve got to get to 50.”

Gov. Gregoire told us she understands that the legislature has a tough job, but added: "The longer they wait, the deeper the cuts will have to be."

Gregoire isn't the only one who believes lawmakers didn't make the most of the special session. Thirteen Republicans and one Democrat in the house and senate voted against the budget, protesting everything from the lackluster lift on one hand to the continuing onslaught of cuts on the other.

The one Democrat to vote no was Rep. Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds). "It's time to draw a line in the sand on all-cuts budgets," Liias says. Liias says he was disappointed that there was not a "substantive discussion" of raising taxes, "despite lots of proposals out there." He specifically cited a capital gains tax idea and a tax on windfall profits by oil companies; Gregoire recommended the latter, but rejected the capital gains idea.

"Not one bill came to the floor nor where there any committee hearings on revenue," Liias says, explaining that he wants to "tax the one percent" and close corporate loopholes. "I know the high-earners' income tax (Initiative 1098) failed before, but that was before Occupy. That was before people were occupying the Capitol asking us for revenue."

Liias is running for US Congress in a crowded pack of Democrats and has been positioning himself well to the left side of the field, even going to DC in October for an Occupy protest at House Speaker John Boehner's office. So: Was Liias' lone vote (among the Democrats) simply a bratty grandstand?

Liias says he was being strategic and sincere: "You've got conservative Democrats [the so-called Roadkill Caucus] organizing under the banner of 'reform before revenue,' and I don't feel like there's been enough pushback on the budget from the progressive side. (Conservatives have said lawmakers should enact government reforms—such as state worker health care coverage—before talking about new taxes.)

"We've already had reform, we changed how we do benefits on the Disability Lifeline [stipends for the unemployable]. And we've already cut. We've cut $10.5 billion. A discussion of revenue wouldn't be 'revenue first.' This is revenue last."

"It can take a small number to disrupt the process," Liias continues. "I'm just one vote now, but we have to start the discussion. ... I just don't think passing an all cuts budget ... is the right thing to do for the 99 percent. All cuts won't cut it."

The few Republicans who defied their own party's leadership didn't have as specific a complaint as Liias'; that is, they didn't zoom in on revenue. They voted no because they didn't think the budget laid out any substantive reforms.

"I don't like fund transfers," state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-6, Spokane) says. "And I don't think changing the timing on when we replace school buses [a $50 million savings] is going to solve our budget problem. Last year, we had bipartisan success with real reform, but what we saw during this special session was real bipartisan failure. To get so little out of the special session is disappointing. Not a lot of value for the people."
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