Protesters camping out at Capitol

OLYMPIA — A few dozen demonstrators say they’re spending the night inside the Washington state Capitol to protest budget cuts being considered by lawmakers in Olympia, repeating a tactic used in a battle over collective bargaining in Wisconsin.

In Washington, the demonstrators, a mix of members of different liberal community groups, are lobbying lawmakers to end tax breaks on certain industries and services.

“The bottom line is that the people have not been heard on this issue,” said Will Pittz, executive director of Washington Can, one of the advocacy groups organizing the demonstration.

Washington is facing a $5 billion budget deficit. Earlier this week, House lawmakers rolled out their budget proposal that included mostly cost-cutting measures. Senators will follow next week with their budget proposals.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to raise taxes this session. They also have to contend with a voter-approved initiative that reinstated a rule that mandates a two-thirds vote in each chamber to create or raise any taxes or fees.

Washington State Patrol officials asked demonstrators to leave, but also told them that they would not arrest anyone who stayed overnight. Lt. Mark Arras told the crowd they can stay as long as they are peaceful. Arras added that the decision to let the demonstrators stay the night came from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office, the State Patrol and the department of General Administration.

Demonstrators have played drums, chanted, and sang through the evening as they try to keep the energy up. Later in the night, most rolled out sleeping bags, some near the golden Washington state seal, and staked out different spots to sleep on the hard marble floor inside the Capitol.

The demonstrators staying are left over from a rally that attracted a few hundred people earlier Wednesday. They arrived in the afternoon and marched outside the Capitol, set up camp inside, demonstrated at a budget committee hearing and some chanted during a Senate floor voting session, from which the group was ushered out.

The crowd was boisterous at times, with their chants heard from inside the chambers while legislators voted.

Some lawmakers mingled with the crowd. Later in the night Sens. Adam Kline and Karen Keiser, D-Seattle, brought tangerines.

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