Counter-rally urges fiscal restraint

Antitax advocates had their own rally on the soggy Capitol lawn Tuesday, listening to a litany of speeches that favored lower taxes, fewer regulations on business and more accountability for government.

As many as 100 people joined the rally, which was on the opposite side of Capitol Way from the more than 20,000 people reported to have rallied for education.

Some in the antitax crowd, including event speakers, said they believe their tax-control message finally is getting through during the state’s recent economic decline.

They stood under a canopy for shelter but a cold breeze knifed through the sides as a series of lawmakers, activists and representatives of the event co-sponsors, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Olympia-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, pitched their antitax themes.

’10-year drunk’

“There are people here in the Legislature who understand what the people have been saying for quite some time – no new taxes,” said Rep. Lois McMahan, a Republican from the Gig Harbor area. McMahan told the group that Washington has “a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, said state government has been “on a 10-year drunk and it’s time to sober up.”

The state’s economic issues are “the only issue this year that really matters,” said Rep. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood.

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, a conservative Democrat from Mason County, spoke of needing to improve the state’s business climate.

The remarks clashed with what teachers across the street were pitching at a Washington Education Association rally, but EFF President Bob Williams said he thought the two events were able to remain separate.

Sheldon, who has sponsored legislation to penalize teachers’ pay if they strike, said in an interview that he nonetheless thought it was good to have both rallies. “I think it’s good that the public will come to Olympia and express its opinion,” he said.

But he added that he would have preferred if teachers had chosen a Saturday or other nonwork day to visit.

Williams said he was unsure what effect his rally could have on lawmakers facing a potential $2.4 billion budget deficit.

“I think the governor and the majority of the Legislature recognize the economy can’t take more taxes,” Williams said. “I don’t even see them going for a tax increase right now.”

Williams disputes size of hole

Williams disputed the size of the deficit, pointing out that more than half the gap is caused by proposals to increase state spending over current levels. Hold spending to current levels and all but $800 million or $900 million of the gap goes away, Williams said.

EFF has supported Gov. Gary Locke’s new budget approach, which attempts to establish priorities for spending. Locke’s budget would suspend two education initiatives for two years and cut other education programs, reducing the potential budget hit by about $545 million in lower education spending alone.

The pro-business rally drew onlookers from the school strike and others, like Olympia activist Gil Carbone, who criticized EFF.

“Basically, their position is they are going to improve government by taking money away from government,” said Carbone, a former Olympia City Council member.

“I think it’s a non sequitur and untenable. Somebody needed to tell them that.”

Preschool teacher Lauren Tozzi of Seattle held a sign advocating an income tax and other causes. “State income tax, duh,” one message declared. Another said: “Tax the rich. Educate the rest of us.”

“The rich definitely aren’t paying their fair share,” Tozzi complained.

“I’m the rich she wants to tax,” said Ron Moss, a retired road-builder from Olympia who was attending the EFF rally. Moss said his own children were home-schooled, yet he had to pay taxes – a situation he thinks entitles him to a refund.

Even so, he was glad to see the two rallies, Moss said.

“It’s healthy to have the pro and the con, and the con and pro.”

“I think the governor and the majority of the Legislature recognize the economy can’t take more taxes. I don’t even see them going for a tax increase right now.”

– Bob Williams, Evergreen Freedom Foundation president

B2, 15.01.2003; Micah Fonken, 7, of Maple Valley holds a sign opposing new taxes during a rally by The Evergreen Freedom Foundation on Tuesday afternoon on the Capitol Campus. The rally coincided with a large teachers march and rally. Tony Overman/The Olympian