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Originally published February 15, 2010 at 7:16 PM | Page modified February 15, 2010 at 8:40 PM

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Thousands rally in Olympia for and against tax increases

Thousands of people swarmed the state Capitol on Monday to protest tax increases — and then an hour later thousands more gathered to support them.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — Thousands of people swarmed the state Capitol on Monday to protest tax increases — and then an hour later thousands more gathered to support them.

A crowd that State Patrol officers pegged at around 3,000 people chanted "No more tax!" at the statehouse, only to be replaced by an even larger throng yelling "No more cuts!"

The roar of the rallies couldn't be heard through the thick walls of the Capitol, but there's little doubt which group has the ear of Democratic lawmakers.

"I promise you," state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, told the pro-tax crowd, "we are going to close tax loopholes and we're going to raise revenue."

The same message is coming from all Democratic leaders in the House, Senate and the governor's office, who say they're considering options ranging from a tax on bottled water to a general sales-tax increase, as well as closing tax exemptions. The money is needed, they say, to help close a projected $2.8 billion budget shortfall and avoid deep cuts in state services.

In fact, the question is not so much whether lawmakers will increase taxes, but when. Budget writers in the Senate were planning to release plans this week for cutting spending and raising taxes, but now they've pushed the date to next week.

The legislative session is scheduled to end on March 11.

Anti-tax protesters warned of payback during the November election if Democrats, who control the Legislature, increase taxes.

"The message is pretty clear. Quit spending money and start listening to the voters or you are going to be replaced. It's very simple," said Dale Halbert, 63, a retiree from Whidbey Island.

Tax opponents carried signs reading, "Give us liberty, not debt," "Don't tread on my money," and "Deliver us from weasels."

"I'm just taxed to death," said Clo Foote, 61, who runs a printing company in Olympia. "They're killing us."

It was an angry crowd at times, shouting "No more tax!" and "Liar, liar!" when speakers talked about Gov. Chris Gregoire and her past opposition to tax increases. The governor in recent months has said taxes are needed to prevent deep cuts in state services.

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When asked about being called a liar, Gregoire on Monday said: "I'm not into the name-calling. Let's have a good discussion, let's be respectful of each other. I respect their views. I respect what they have to say, but not when they resort to name-calling."

Gregoire said she may release her own tax proposal this week.

The opposing rallies were spaced far enough apart to keep the two groups from running into each other.

The pro-tax rally was organized by Rebuilding Our Economic Future, a coalition of labor, education, health care and other groups.

It was a decidedly different crowd from the earlier gathering. People carried signs such as "Robin Hood was right, tax the rich" and "Money for jobs and education, not war."

"We're opposed to any further cutbacks to education and social services," said John Martinez, 56, a community-college teacher in Seattle.

"We need to expand services and raise salaries for educators and health workers," he said. "We think a tax on wealthy individuals and corporations will contribute to that."

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said Democrats will propose some budget cuts, but tax increases will be needed as well. "You just can't do an all-cuts budget," she said. "We cut so much last year we don't have much left."

Andrew Garber: agarber@seattletimes.com or 360-236-8268

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