$890 million in Washington state tax hikes get Senate OK

OLYMPIA — The Senate approved $890 million in tax increases Sunday, including the first hike in the state’s share of the sales tax since 1983.

Senate Democrats used their majority to pass a bill that, if also approved by the House, would end several tax exemptions, begin charging sales tax on bottled water and tack three-tenths of one cent onto the sales tax for three years.

This legislation, which would raise $805 million through mid-2011, squeaked by on a 25-23 vote, with one senator excused. Six Democrats, including Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, joined 17 Republicans in opposing the bill.

A second bill boosting the cigarette tax by $1 per pack was approved 29-19. Hobbs supported the increase while Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, did not.

Both bills now go to the House, where Democrats are pondering a smaller package of revenue-raising measures that includes the cigarette tax hike but not the sales tax increase.

Today, in a two-hour debate, Senate Democrats said money generated from the tax changes will help balance the state budget and sustain a flow of funds for vital services for seniors and disabled, health insurance to the poor, financial aid for college students, early learning, levy equalization, and basic education.

Republicans labeled it the largest tax increase in state history and criticized Democrats for not paring more spending before traveling the path of taxes. Money-saving steps like eliminating government programs and rewriting of contracts with union workers did not occur, they said.

The “sacred cows will continue to graze” on the Capitol lawn, said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

The key piece of the Senate plan is the sales tax increase. As proposed it would take effect June 1 and expire June 30, 2013. The plan also establishes a program for providing cash rebates to low-income residents to offset part of the financial impact of a higher sales tax.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623, jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

At a glance

Senate Bill 6143, which is the major tax bill, can be read online at www.leg.wa.gov.

Here’s how Snohomish County representatives voted:

Yes: Sens. Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell, Darlene Fairley of Lake Forest Park, Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, Paull Shin of Edmonds and Jean Berkey of Everett, all Democrats

No: Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, and Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens

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