Regarding the half-cent sales tax increase, Gregoire said that the state’s portion of the sales tax has not been increased since 1983, when a Republican governor passed a 1-cent increase to fund education during the worst recession since the current recession. Gregoire said $411 million of the $492 million in annual revenues from her proposed sales tax increase would go to K-12 and higher education.
Gregoire’s sales tax proposal has a referendum clause, so if passed by the Legislature, it would have to ultimately be approved by the voters in November.
State Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said she was encouraged by the governor listing education and safety nets for the vulnerable as top priorities. “I think that’s what most people really, really expect of us,” Rivers said. But Rivers said it is a bad idea to leave education funding up to a public vote. If the public does not approve the half-cent sales tax increase, then “we’re in the same boat that we’re in right now.”
State Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, gave the Republican rebuttal to Gregoire’s address and said he disagrees with a sales tax hike. He said reforming taxes and prioritizing spending would be enough to fix the crisis. At the top of the spending list should be “education, and public safety, and services for the most vulnerable,” Zarelli said.
He added he would like to amend the state constitution to lower the amount of debt the state is allowed to have, because the state “spends $2 billion in the current budget just to service the amount of debt we carry,” he said. Zarelli also said the state should lower the amount it spends on co-payments and premiums for public health care subsidies, and it should stop funding social services for people who aren’t citizens.