Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.
Democrats used power to spend
By Ralph Thomas and Andrew Garber
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
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TED S. WARREN / AP
A party in Lt. Gov. Brad Owen's office marked Sunday's adjournment. Performing are Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, left; Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, second from right; Brian Hatfield, right, Owen's made-up job, $70,000 a year legislative director; and an unidentified bass guitarist.
OLYMPIA — The state Legislature kicked off three months ago amid widespread predictions that the Democrats in charge would increase taxes, spend more money, and cater to the demands of political allies.
The predictions were right.
The Legislature passed a $26 billion operating budget, a nearly $3 billion increase over the current one, and an $8.5 billion transportation package — the largest in state history. To pay for it all, lawmakers made it more expensive to smoke, drink, drive and, for some people, to die.
Tax increases will raise the cost of cigarettes by 60 cents a pack, liquor by $1.33 a liter and gasoline by 9.5 cents a gallon over the next four years. In addition, lawmakers reinstated an estate tax on the wealthy.
The Democrats also handed labor unions and environmentalists some of their biggest legislative victories in years, boosting unemployment benefits for thousands of seasonal workers, approving the first-ever collective-bargaining agreement with state employees and passing one of the nation's toughest car-emissions standards.
And, with the exception of a dragged-out fight over the gas-tax increase, they did it all with an ease that hasn't been seen in years.