Protests mark first day of special legislative session
Thousands flock to Capitol to show their opposition to deep proposed budget cuts
Originally published November 28, 2011 at 11:57 a.m., updated November 28, 2011 at 8:01 p.m.
Poll: Majority inclined to support sales tax hike
SEATTLE (AP) — A new poll shows that 64 percent of Washington voters are likely to support a temporary sales tax increase to mitigate cuts to education and social services.
The Elway Research sampling found 43 percent of respondents were “certainly willing” and 21 percent were “probably willing” to back a tax hike proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The governor wants the Legislature to place a ballot measure before voters, asking for a temporary, half-cent sales tax increase.
The Elway Poll of 408 voters was taken Nov. 21-22.The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
OLYMPIA — Thousands of protesters greeted lawmakers beginning a 30-day special session Monday to address the state’s budget woes, with a rowdy group disrupting a hearing and police later using Tasers in a skirmish amid a large crowd that refused to leave the Capitol building at the end of the day.
The Washington State Patrol locked the doors to the building Monday night, preventing more people from entering. Hundreds of protesters, most associated with the national Occupy movement, vowed to stay, and many brought sleeping bags to the building’s rotunda. Dozens of troopers were also in the building, standing at entrances.
There was a brief skirmish and Dan Coon, a state patrol spokesman, said troopers used Tasers on three people when demonstrators advanced on the officers. He said the troopers were trying to protect themselves from being trampled.
“They weren’t trying to disperse people,” he said.
Coon wasn’t sure if those demonstrators had been arrested. He said four people had been arrested throughout the day Monday.
The protests defined the opening day of a session that is to focus on budget cuts. Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed reducing funding to areas like education, public safety and health care to deal with a $1.4 billion deficit.
Mark Arras, acting captain for the Capitol campus for the State Patrol, told protesters Monday evening the building was closed and asked them to leave.
“We respect your right to free speech and protest. We ask you to do so within the building hours,” Arras said.
The crowded responded: “This is not a protest. It’s an occupation.”
Earlier Monday, more than a dozen people burst into a crowded committee room and began chanting in opposition to deep cuts. They shouted in favor of taxing the wealthy.
Security escorted one of the protesters out while some continued yelling and others banged on doors outside of the room. Lawmakers eventually suspended the hearing, citing concerns from the fire marshal, but it resumed about 30 minutes later.
The panel was scheduled to begin considering Gregoire’s proposal for close to $2 billion in cuts, reductions to local governments and fund transfers, leaving $600 million in the bank.
Gregoire wants the Legislature to send a temporary, half-cent sales tax increase to the statewide ballot as early as March, with the levy pinned to “buying back” cuts that could be made to areas like education and public safety.
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate will produce their own plan in the coming weeks. A packed House hearing began that process Monday afternoon, though the meeting was disrupted several times with people inside the hearing chanting several phrases, including, “We will not be silenced.”
More than 1,000 people from various groups, including Occupy Olympia, rallied at the Capitol to protest proposed cuts to state programs. Hundreds gathered on the Capitol steps Monday, carrying signs reading “Save our Services,” “Protect Our People” and “People of Washington are United.” A large banner said “Tax the 1 percent not the 99 percent.”
Other groups crowded inside the Capitol rotunda, and a small group of protesters in the House gallery unfurled a banner over the chamber and shouted for lawmakers to tax the rich and fund schools. They chanted that the plan to further cut education will hurt families, children and teachers.
“It is immoral. It is illegal,” they shouted. A few lawmakers watched the protesters while others ignored them. Troopers managed to quiet the crowd and escort them out of the chamber.
About 200 protesters, chanting “We are the 99 percent” and carrying signs like “They Cut, We bleed,” later filled the Senate public galleries after the Senate adjourned for the day.
Outside of the building, Albert Postema, of Snohomish, was wearing a rope noose tie to signify what he said was a “collective economic noose around us.”
Postema, a produce and nursery stock farmer, said that he went to his first Occupy protest in New York in September. He said he considers himself a conservative but is concerned about “economic and political corruption.”
“The poor and underprivileged have been taking the brunt,” he said. “How do you make cuts when others have been so greedy?”
Karen Washington, a Spokane home care worker, said she’s worried about how cuts could affect her clients’ ability to pay for medication, as well as their impact on her as a worker. Washington said that while the state needs to raise revenue, the sales tax increase proposed by the governor would hurt low-income workers like herself.
Washington said she hopes lawmakers consider other taxes, including removing tax exemptions for some businesses.
“It’s not an either or situation,” she said. “It’s not sales tax or cuts. It’s not education or health care. They have other options.”