In response to today's revenue forecast, which estimates the state's budget shortfall for the next two years will be about $5.3 billion, about 1,000 teachers, healthcare workers students and others crowded onto the Capitol steps, calling for lawmakers to end tax exemptions rather than cutting education and social programs.
The rally, organized by a group called Our Economic Future Coalition, is one of several that have taken place in Olympia so far this session advocating tax increases rather than cuts in the biennial budget, though state lawmakers say that approach would be very difficult politically.
Collin Jergens, a spokesman for to event’s organizers said the purpose of the rally was to remind lawmakers that they have a choice between adding taxes and cutting social services.
“The new revenue forecast just underscores the need for the Legislature to take a balanced approach,” he said.
So far this session several bills have been introduced that would remove some tax exemptions including House Bill 1847 and Senate Bill 5816, both of which would add taxes to coal, private jets and plastic surgery in Washington and use the money to pay for a state-subsidized health insurance program for low-income state residents.
Doing so could bring in about $120 million per year, according to the bills’ fiscal notes.
Ideas like this could be hard to get through the Legislature, though, because in November voters approved Initiative 1053, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.
Rep. Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat who came to the rally, said adding taxes to fund state programs would be a big political challenge.
“I get all these emails saying, ‘keep funding my program, keep funding my program,’” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult.”
Jergens said if legislators don’t pass anything to end tax exemptions this session, the coalition would push for a ballot measure to do so in the fall, though he thought it made sense for lawmakers to support bills to raise certain taxes now.
“I can’t understand why two-thirds wouldn’t support closing tax exemptions for Wall Street banks and private jets,” he said.
Participants in the rally represented a diverse collection of groups including the American Federation of Teachers, the Washington Association of Churches and the Service Employees International Union.
Ron Turner, a Tacoma resident and member of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters said he was there in support of workers in Wisconsin, given a recent law passed there that takes collective bargaining rights away from most public-sector employees.
He said he wanted state lawmakers to protect collective bargaining and pay attention to corporate practices in the state as they look for ways to balance the budget.
Another popular topic at the rally was increasing taxes on banks, a proposal homecare worker Judy Harris of Port Orchard said she supported.
“They keep cutting and keep cutting the seniors and the people with disabilities and our children’s education,” Harris said. “I’m tired of it.”