The ignominious death of the sales tax increase

What could Sen. Lisa Brown have been thinking? Was she even thinking at all?
What could Sen. Lisa Brown have been thinking? Was she even thinking at all?

The Seattle Times is reporting that the state Senate has finally dropped its proposal to raise the sales tax. It started out at three-tenths of a cent on a dollar, dropped to two, then one, and then today it disappeared. Now maybe a deal will be worked out on the budget with a whole lot of nasty little increases on the relatively defenseless sectors, a whole lot of prayers for Obama to fill the missing amounts, and an awkward exit from town.

Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown is a smart, courageous legislator who would like to be governor some day. But this episode makes one wonder about her political smarts, or lack thereof. If you are going to take all the political heat for proposing an increase in a hated, regressive tax, you had better have to votes to pass it. Enacting things over the dead body of Speaker Frank Chopp is suicidal, and besides Gov. Gregoire was opposed as well.

Just as foolish is letting the debate drag on for weeks, really months, making sure that everyone knows you favored the boost, failed to get it, and prolonged the session. Sen. Ed Murray, who hung in there insisting the sales tax ploy was alive when most thought it had finally expired, also gets a dunce cap in all this.

What Sen. Brown fails to accept is that the Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House are built on swing-district Democrats who steer clear of divisive issues such as gun control and abortion and also run the other way when anyone proposes raising taxes (except on out of state interests). Gov. Gregoire, who was twice spooked by Dino Rossi into throwing up her hands in horror at any suggestion of raising taxes, is also in this camp. To top it off, most tax increases, if they ever made it through the legislature, become full-employment acts for Tim Eyman and his initiative/referendum business. So why make all this so obvious?

On the other hand, how are we going to get out of our fiscal mess? I suspect the only real strategy our leaders have is a kind of Katrina Maneuver. Let things get so bad the federal government has to come in with disaster relief. Heckuva job, Mr. Speaker!


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