Protests mark opening of emergency budget session

Protests mark opening of emergency budget session

Chanting protesters ringed the Capitol, briefly shut down the House budget committee, and jammed the Rotunda on Monday as Washington’s emergency legislative session was gaveled to order to deal with a gaping $2 billion hole in the budget.

Demonstrators from the “occupy” movement around the state joined up with union activists, education supporters, homecare workers and other service providers to provide an extravaganza of sights and sounds for opening day of the special session called by Gov. Chris Gregoire.  By the end of the day, four demonstrators were arrested and dozens were issued trespass notice when they did not leave the building at closing time. Tasers were used on three people.

The State Patrol estimated that 3,000 protesters were part of a series of rallies and swarming the Rotunda.  Occupy Olympia already has an encampment near the Capitol, although the state is banning overnight stays in the Capitol and on the grounds.

“We are the 99 percent!” the protesters chanted, referring to their view that the nation’s Top 1 percent get all the tax breaks and privileges.  Rallies featured live bands, singers, drummers and high-decibel speakers who demanded “no more cuts” in the budget, and repeal of corporate tax breaks.  “Whose house? OUR house,” they cried.

Gavels fell at noon to open the unprecedented November-December special session to rewrite the two-year, $32 billion state budget that was adopted in late May but now is bleeding red ink.  Governor Gregoire has proposed $1.7 billion in spending cuts, with some to be backfilled if lawmakers place a tax package on the statewide ballot and voters approve.

The Governor proposes a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, boosting the existing 6.5 percent tax to 7 percent, plus any local sales taxes. The increase would generate about $500 million per year for the next three years, and then sunset. Gregoire also has suggested other revenue measures, including repeal of some tax breaks.

Protesters in the House galleries shouted for lawmakers to tax the rich and adequately finance public education.  Demonstrators later shut down the House budget committee with their shouting before lawmakers could hear a briefing from state budget Director Marty Brown on the Governor’s plan.   Later, the committee resumed work.  The Senate plans budget hearings beginning Tuesday.

Hundreds of protesters later massed outside Governor Gregoire’s office demanding that she come out to see them.  Her office was heavily guarded (see above) and she did not emerge.

The Senate swore in two new members, David Frockt (below) of Seattle, who succeeded the late Scott White, and Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge Island, who succeeded Phil Rockefeller.  Both Frockt and Rolfes are Democrats who served previously in the House.  The Senate also will welcome a newly elected Republican colleague from Spokane Valley, Mike Padden, a former House member and judge.

State Supreme Court Justice  Charles Johnson swears in Sen. David Frockt during Monday’s Senate floor session. Photo courtesy of Washington State Senate.

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