Since the state House released budget proposals last week, crowds have come to Olympia to protest provisions in the bill, and, in a special “tax day” rally Friday, the Washington tea party brought lawmakers a new message.
In sharp contrast to anti-cuts protests last week, about 350 people gathered on the steps of the Legislative Building with a different rallying cry: Cut the budget more.
“Our message is government spending at both the state and federal level is out of control,” said Lasse Lund, a spokesman for the Freedom Foundation, which organized the event.
Lund said tea party members were holding about 15 rallies throughout the state on the deadline for people to file their taxes.
FedEx driver Greg Woodworth, the president of a small-government group called the Tacoma 9-12 Project and a rally participant, said he wanted to see state government follow a private-sector model during tough economic times.
When the recession hit, Woodworth said, he watched his company trim its staff and become more efficient.
“We did all kinds of things to shrink the company, but while we were downsizing and tightening our belts, Olympia was still hiring like crazy,” said Woodworth.
He pointed to the Department of Social and Health Services and the Transportation Department as two state agencies that he thought should be reduced in the budget.
Lund said that most of the discussion this session has been about cuts the Legislature is proposing to state services, but both the House and Senate budget proposals would spend more state money than the last two-year budget.
For 2009-11, the state spent about $30.26 billion, according to budget documents, and under both the House and Senate plans it would spend more than $32 billion for the upcoming biennium. Overall, though, spending is close to the same as it was in the last budget because, in 2009, state funding was bolstered by about $2 billion in one-time federal stimulus money.
Also, since the last biennium, increased caseloads and inflation have added to the amount the state has to pay to maintain public programs.
About 30 people turned out Friday for a counter rally to protest cuts to the social safety net and education and to ask legislators to end tax breaks instead.
The demands of the counter-protesters, organized by a group called Fuse Washington, mirrored rallies at the state Capitol last week, when several thousand union members targeted tax exemptions for banks, private jet owners and cosmetic surgery, among others.
Fuse campaign director Jim Dawson came to the rally Friday dressed as the Mad Hatter because, he said, the tea party had “gone mad.” He said he thought tea party protesters should support the Fuse message because tax exemptions are a good example of wasteful government spending.
Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat and chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said it wasn’t an easy year for legislators to make budget decisions.
He said he and other budget writers tried to pay attention to the provisions protesters asked for, but given the budget shortfall they have to deal with this session, he said he expected both Democrats and Republicans to have to make unpopular decisions.
“Despite the heat in the halls and on the steps of the Capitol building, we’re going to have to govern in a responsible way,” Murray said.
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826 email@example.com