Legislature passes bill
suspending Initiative 601
Spending restrictions approved by voters in 1993
Associated Press- The Spokesman Review
OLYMPIA, WA - 3/13/02 _ A bill that suspends Washington's voter-approved spending restrictions passed the Legislature on Tuesday, clearing the way for lawmakers to close tax loopholes, tap the state's rainy-day fund and impose new taxes.
Senate Bill 6819 suspends parts of Initiative 601, the 1993 measure that requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate for new taxes, other bills that increase state revenue and spending money from the rainy-day fund. The suspension would allow lawmakers to pass such bills with a simple majority until June 30, 2003, the end of the current budget cycle.
With slim majorities in both chambers, Democrats said they needed the change to fill a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget, caused partly by the severe slump in the state's economy.
"September 11, 2001. Who could forget that day?" said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, who blamed the state's budget problem on the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. "This measure is temporary. This measure is necessary. Unless we want to absolutely annihilate health care for our seniors, education for our children, this measure is necessary."
The bill passed the House 50-46 on a party-line vote after previously passing the Senate. It now goes to Gov. Gary Locke, who is expected to sign it.
Republicans opposed the change, saying the spending practices of the Democrats are mostly to blame for the budget problem. Suspending I-601, they argue, betrays the will of voters who wanted to limit the growth of government and rein in tax increases.
"Rather than make the effort to control the growth of government, what we're saying is `Let's make it really easy to raise taxes,"' said Rep. Dave Mastin, R-Walla Walla.
Kessler said lawmakers have amended other parts of I-601 before, and added any tax increases would be small.
"They will be targeted, they will be slim," Kessler said.
Even as the House debated the bill, budget writers looking for a final $50 million or so to balance the budget were scrounging for votes. Proposals ranged from expanding gambling -- a move long considered dead in the Senate -- to a steep boost in the sales tax on hard liquor.
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