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Originally published January 15, 2010 at 1:18 PM | Page modified January 15, 2010 at 3:31 PM

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Guest columnist

Legislature must find new revenue to protect basic values

Washington state needs more revenues to ensure it doesn't lose ground in the areas most critical to its future, writes state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. Not to raise taxes would jeopardize the investments that citizens value, including schools, public safety and healthy citizens.

Special to The Times

DEMOCRATIC and Republican legislators agree on Washington's basic values.

We all want a thriving economy with plenty of jobs, the best schools for our students, and healthy citizens in safe communities.

We all want to stand up for these values on behalf of the 6 million people we represent, from Aberdeen to Zillah.

Where we do disagree is about whether Washington currently has the resources required to follow through on these commitments.

I believe that without additional resources we will lose ground in the areas most critical to our state's future and most central to our values.

I don't believe Washingtonians are content to do that.

Last year, when the Legislature faced the largest imbalance between outgoing expenditures and incoming revenues that our state has ever seen, we did not seek more revenue.

We cut $4 billion from state funding for classrooms, college enrollments and keeping tuition low, health care and hospital services, and prisons. We froze state worker pay, cut health benefits and eliminated the equivalent of 3,000 full-time jobs.

And yet we face a challenge even more daunting this year.

Our situation was caused by the same financial crisis that created budget shortfalls for 47 other states, led by Republicans and Democrats alike.

A crisis like this isn't a partisan event, and I appreciate the constructive spirit with which several prominent state Republicans have offered their key ideas on these pages for getting us through the storm ["Produce a budget that reflects our values," Opinion, Jan. 6].

But the magnitude of our problem dwarfs those solutions. The Legislature could — and very well may — do all the things suggested and make not even a 5-percent dent in the problem.

Our budget shortfall is challenging enough as a math equation. But we cannot overlook the fact that it's a human problem most of all.

We all want our students to be prepared to succeed in the national and world economy.

We all want those with affordable health care to keep it.

We all want to be tough on crime by preventing it.

But even taking the Republicans' suggestions, no new revenue will mean cuts to early childhood education, to class sizes, to rural district funding and to college financial aid that will jeopardize our students' and our state's economic future.

It will mean eliminating health coverage for 65,000 working Washingtonians — including those with diabetes, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and pregnant women.

It will mean cuts to assistance for the disabled and to effective intervention and treatment programs, creating more desperate people doing desperate things and placing our neighborhoods at risk.

To deal with this crisis, the Legislature will make more administrative cuts, and we will do it early.

We will also put intensive effort into preserving existing jobs, putting more people to work today, helping those out of work retool for the jobs of tomorrow and jump-starting private-sector hiring.

But these efforts alone will not be enough. We will seek added resources to avoid some of the scenarios outlined above and keep our basic values intact.

This won't include a property-tax increase, or an income tax. But it will include ending unfair tax preferences and closing tax loopholes that don't create jobs. And it could include, among dozens of other ideas, a sales tax on bottled water, increased "vice" taxes, or higher business taxes for some professional services.

There will be plenty who oppose these ideas. Fair enough. But it will take more than a 5-percent solution from those who oppose new revenue to protect the basic values mentioned here.

More than any other year in recent memory, the 2010 legislative session is about commitment.

It's about affirming our commitment to the things we value, following through on that commitment to protect those values, and preventing our state from sliding backward in our most basic needs.

Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, is the majority leader of the Washington state Senate.

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