A raucous crowd of tax protesters took over the Capitol steps Wednesday in Olympia, some dangling tea bags from their eyeglass frames in an effort to send a message to the other Washington about the federal financial bailout.
The “T.E.A. Party” (Taxed Enough Already) rally, which was one of many similar tax day events nationwide, drew an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people who chanted “Stop spending my money!”
State Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, blamed “out of control” federal spending and government growth for the nation’s economic crisis.
“Guess what, my friends? We can’t be half-socialist any more than we can be half-pregnant. When you get pregnant with a little socialism, sooner or later you are going to give birth to a full-grown Marxist,” Holmquist said to cheers.
A conservative think tank, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, used the occasion to share concern about state-level spending.
Marchers carried signs identifying their hometowns. March organizer Ken Morse said that after seeing 55 cities from throughout the state, he stopped counting. A big motivator for many rally-goers was that the national debt has risen to more than $11 trillion, much of it occurring under the watch of Republican presidents.
“I was in the Reagan Revolution. I have been struck by the wide base that this has,” Morse said after bringing people in his crowd to the even larger crowd the Evergreen Freedom Foundation had amassed.
Earlier in the day, dozens of people marked tax day in Tacoma by gathering at the Krispy Kreme near the Tacoma Mall, some of them on their way to the Olympia rally, others stopping by on their commute to show support.
Gary Smith of Anderson Island was on his way to mail his taxes when he stopped to sign a tea bag.
“I’ve had enough on taxes,” said Smith, a contractor. “Every year it goes up and I owe more and more. It’s ridiculous. They’re killing the small-businessman.”
Fred Gustafson, who works the night shift at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, stopped by the Krispy Kreme parking lot on his way home from work.
He said he’s tired of lawmakers choosing to cut essential services with the expectation that taxpayers will agree to a tax hike to spare them.
“They like to cut the hot-button issues, things like education and health care. The heart issues,” he said.
In Olympia, State Patrol Sgt. Ted DeHart said the lively rally was the largest protest held at the Capitol in several years. A series of speakers egged on the crowd.
“As you leave these steps, this is not the end but the beginning” of a movement, said KVI 570 AM radio host Kirby Wilbur. He also called out to Gov. Chris Gregoire, saying, “Governor, if you’re home, we cannot survive this debt!”
Taxpayers at the Capitol said they were concerned that taxes might go up in the future – especially at the federal level.
Jerry Stephenson, a semi-retired military veteran who is “trying to sell yachts” for a living, wore tea bags on his eyeglass frames and held up a sign that said, “Don’t spread my wealth; spread my work ethic.”
“I spent 221/2 years with the Marine Corps defending a country I no longer recognize,” said Stephenson, who lives in Edgewood. The national debt “was always a problem,” he said, but he sees a bigger risk under Obama and has fears government will go after gun rights too.
“I don’t recognize the GOP anymore, for that matter,” Stephenson added. “There isn’t a difference between the Republicans and the Democrats anymore. John F. Kennedy would be considered a conservative today. That’s how far the pendulum has swung.”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, is among those who have spoken about a need for higher taxes, and she said the rally does not change the situation. But she said she respects the right and ability of protesters to organize and tell their story at the Capitol.
“I think that the Bush administration dramatically expanded our national debt and created the conditions for these bailouts,” Brown said. “I think they are laying blame in the wrong places, blaming the Obama administration for the fiscal mess the country is in right now.”
Brown said that at the state level, Washington faces a “very serious recession, and we’re responding it to it responsibly with a balanced budget. It’s a really serious setback for public schools, for higher education, for human services in Washington. So I completely disagree with their argument that it is a spending problem.”
Washington’s relative burden for state and local taxes is below the national average. Washington ranked No. 35 in the nation in 2008, according to the conservative Tax Foundation’s ranking of states in relation to personal income. The state was No. 30 in 1998, No. 24 in 1988 and No. 19 in 1978.
News Tribune staff writer Jason Hagey contributed to this report.