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Budget crisis, gay marriage shake up next Wash. Legislature

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A one billion dollar budget shortfall, taxes and gay marriage are all on the agenda as the Washington legislature convenes Monday. But the timeframe is short – just 60 days – and already the Governor’s push for gay marriage is setting off partisan tension.

Before we talk policy, let’s talk music. It’s tradition in Olympia that legislative leaders offer their pick for a session anthem. Democrat Lisa Brown is Senate Majority Leader. Her 2012 nominee is “I Hear Them All” by the band Old Crow Medicine Show.

“Essentially in an era of Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring ‘I hear them all,’ I think, is a very appropriate theme for us because we need to be listening to everyone’s voice,” Brown said.

Including the voices of gay and lesbian Washingtonians who wish to marry. At a pre-session forum, Brown heartily endorsed Governor Chris Gregoire’s call to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington.

“In my opinion this is the right time to move forward with marriage equality. I personally believe the public is on board with it," Brown said.

GOP calls it a mistake

But Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt says issues like gay marriage will make it harder to find consensus on the budget.

“We have 60 days to complete a very, very challenging process and the last thing we need to do is be down here in turmoil over social issues,” Hewitt said.

So what about the budget? Lawmakers solved roughly a third of the $1.5 billion shortfall when they met in special session last month. But they’ve left the hard decisions for now. Senate Majority Leader Brown says they’ll write an all cuts budget, but ...

“I expect that in the end we’ll also be asking the public to look at a revenue package because I expect that the budget that we put out there will not be acceptable to the people of Washington state,” Brown said.

New taxes?

The leading idea from majority Democrats right now: a temporary half-penny sales tax increase. But Republicans have adopted this mantra: “reforms before revenue”. House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt says instead of taxes the legislature should rollback regulations on business.

“We make it more expensive everyday to live in Washington state than other states. We have to live within the means we have and that’s why I don’t think it’s time to put a revenue package out," DeBolt said.

But even Republicans – who want limited government – acknowledge these are trying budget times. Back to the session anthem, Senator Hewitt offers anything by Dire Straits.

“If you want to be popular in the legislature you have lots of money and you get to help everybody and that’s not what we’re doing today. So it’s a serious challenge that we have in front of us,” Hewitt said.

At this point legislative leaders predict they will adjourn within the 60 day deadline. Hewitt, for one, says they don’t want to look dysfunctional like Congress.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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