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Resist these temptations, lawmakers

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on March 8, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
March 8, 2010 5:58 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Of the hundred-odd foolish things that might yet come out of Olympia this winter, three stand out:

Raise the sales tax

Some new taxes appear necessary to save fundamentally important state programs, such as compensatory funding for property-poor school districts and financial aid for college students with low incomes.

It now seems too much to expect that the Democrats who control both House and Senate will squeeze more out of their core constituents – for example, by reopening state workers’ contracts, canceling scheduled raises and requiring them to pay what their private-sector counterparts do for health insurance.

A company struggling with multi-billion-dollar shortfalls would long since have taken such steps, but government has a marvelous ability to exempt itself from the extremities others are suffering.

But the three-tenths percent sales tax increase in the Senate’s newly passed budget is one of the worst ways to balance a budget in a downturn this severe. Washington’s sales tax is already so high – upwards of 9 percent in some jurisdictions – that it can weigh heavily against purchasing decisions.

A higher sales tax would translate into more discouragement of commerce at precisely the wrong time.

Close the state prison on McNeil Island

This is another loser from the Senate. On paper, it looks tempting: $50 million a year in supposed savings by shutting down the 1,200 bed McNeil Island Corrections Center.

The real world is another story. The prison operates in synergy with the nearby Special Commitment Center, which houses 300 of the state’s most dangerous sex predators. The proximity of the two institutions allows enormous economies in overhead costs, and closure of the prison would simply necessitate the creation of another prison elsewhere.

Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail is highly skeptical and a recent consultant’s study concluded that closure would be a bad idea. The state does not need make-believe remedies for a real fiscal crisis.

‘Protect’ police privacy

Both House and Senate have approved a measure that would prevent the public from accessing birthdates and photos of law enforcement personnel. This won’t keep bad guys from targeting cops – there are plenty of ways to do that already – but it will make it harder for citizens to hold rogue officers accountable for abuses of the immense power they’ve been entrusted with.

Lawmakers have abandoned the original “protect the cops” rationale and repackaged the measure as a tribute to the six officers recently killed in Pierce and King counties. Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has often talked of open government, should see this as the charade it is and refuse to sign the bill.

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