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Originally published Friday, April 1, 2011 at 5:53 PM

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Social-service cuts to spur Olympia protests

A series of rallies and protests at the Washington state Capitol next week is expected to attract thousands of union members, students and community organizers who argue the Legislature should be closing corporate tax loopholes instead of cutting social services.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — A series of rallies and protests at the state Capitol next week is expected to attract thousands of union members, students and community organizers who argue lawmakers should be closing corporate-tax loopholes instead of cutting social services.

The Washington State Labor Council's four days of Olympia gatherings will take place in the same week the House is anticipated to release its budget proposal. The event is expected to include participants from advocacy groups such as Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

"We knew [the budget proposal] would be coming sometime around now, and we thought this would be a good time to make sure that they were focusing on the community," said Kathy Cummings, a spokeswoman for the council. "They [have] got to address the corporate tax breaks."

Cummings said plans for actions from April 5 to 8 were made months before the battle over union collective-bargaining rights erupted in Wisconsin, but those protests have gotten members of the groups more "fired up" this legislative session. By the end of next week, the council is hoping the event will have attracted around 8,000 people total.

The event is mainly a follow-up, she said, to a letter sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire and lawmakers in mid-March that demanded the Legislature stop cuts to public services by instead ending tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations by the week of April 4.

Lawmakers say under Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, tax increases require a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers, making such a change unlikely.

"Community members will call on lawmakers to choose which side they're on — are they with big corporations and special interests, or are they with the people of Washington?" Susie Levy, a community organizer from Washington Community Action Network, said during a news conference this week that previewed the series of rallies.

On Tuesday, local Olympia advocacy groups will head to the Capitol. On Wednesday, the Washington Community Action Network is expected to bring together hundreds of community activists and students for a rally.

On Thursday, the focus will move to proposed budget cuts to health-care programs such as the Basic Health Plan and Disability Lifeline, with participants mainly from SEIU Healthcare. Union members from Behavioral Health Resources, Catholic Community Services, Community Psychiatric Clinic, Compass Health and Downtown Emergency Service Center will leave their jobs for that day to protest cuts to health-care services.

The event will end Friday with a labor-union rally expected to attract about 6,000 union members.

Queenie Wong: 360-236-8267 or qwong@seattletimes.com

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