Business

Legislators meet budget critics

"A scant audience dominated by critics of state spending greeted Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and Rep. Dave Anderson at the Bayview Senior Center Saturday afternoon.The scattering of 15 people, including a couple of legislative aides, was a sharp contrast from last year when a similar meeting filled the center to overflowing. Then, teachers wanted more money. This time, everyone apparently knew there was no money to be had.Instead of spending more, the most vocal members of the audience wanted the state to spend less, even in the face of I-695 which slashed revenues from the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax by $750 million a year.“I-695 is an emergency situation,” said Haugen, pointing out that this off-year session of the legislature will have more to deal with than usual. A short session is held in even numbered years, while the two-year state budget is hammered out over a lengthy session in odd-numbered years.While I-695 made a major dent in certain parts of the state budget -- particularly transportation -- the two Democrats were still talking tax cuts due to an earlier initiative, I-601, which limited general fund spending. “There’s more money coming in to the state than we can actually spend,” admitted Haugen.The Democrats are proposing a $200 property tax rebate for every homeowner in the state, a move that would require a vote of the people.At this particular meeting, that idea went over like a lead ferry. Conservative Ted Jones scoffed at the idea, while the more liberal Kathy McLaughlin, who wants to maintain social spending, said she’d rather see the state keep the money.“I don’t want the money,” said McLaughlin.“It’s a political move,” charged Jones.As chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Haugen is on the front lines of trying to patch up the budget for ferries and highways. “We’ll try to get as much as we can out of the reserve,” she said, alluding to the state’s billion dollar surplus.The reserve, often called the rainy day fund, is meant to be used for emergencies.“The rainy day is here,” said audience member Gary Magdalik.“I don’t disagree,” replied Haugen.Haugen said part of the ferry budget solution will be to reduce passenger-only ferry costs in the Seattle area. “We’re going to privatize the passenger ferries,” she said. The state will still participate, however, in a “partnership” with a private operator.Haugen’s discussions with the conservative never reached the boiling point, but temperatures did rise. Jones, Magdalik and others criticized what they consider excess spending on everything from highways to state employees.“You’re going to have a Proposition 13 here,” Magdalik warned, referring to the California initiative which slashed property taxes.Haugen acknowledged growing concerns about the property tax, saying “it’s a huge issue.” The constitutional statute which requires property to be assessed at its “highest and best us” . . . “may be looked at,” she said.Anderson mainly listened in apparent frustration. At one point he said that due to I-695, every state department would have to be cut 24.3 percent if education and state debt service are fully funded.“Let’s do it,” shouted Jones.“Not on my watch,” replied Anderson, who listened to Haugen carry the battle for a while and then left early."

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