The start of the state legislative session Monday was mostly ceremonial – flags, honor guards, some unanimous resolutions.  But the political battle lines quickly became clear.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, wasted no time in his opening speech to make clear where he and his fellow Democrats stand, especially on the social safety net. 

“As we consider home care for the elderly, life lines for the disabled, food for the hungry and the basic health plan for families, we should keep in mind that funding these programs is not only morally right, it is very popular,” he told the chamber. 

No sooner did he finish than the Republican House Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis rose to challenge Chopp’s and Gov. Christine Gregoire’s call for an increase in the sales tax to help plug the state’s $1.5 billion shortfall. 

“Mr. Speaker, that’s not a plan, that’s another Band-Aid on a severed arm,” DeBolt said.

Clearly, Republicans are going to fight back on new revenue. 

“There just couldn’t be a more wrong time to increase general sales tax on citizens,” said Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches.

Republicans seem willing, however, to compromise on closing some existing tax loopholes. 

Over the next two months lawmakers will also be considering a host of other issues, from gay marriage, to marijuana legalization, to extending insurance coverage for abortion.

Many Republicans have argued that because of the dire state of the economy, lawmakers should keep from getting distracted by other topics.  But Democrats, who are behind most of these social concerns, are determined to address them.

“When it comes to things that are basic and principal values for legislators,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said, “there’s always enough time to take up those issues.“

Legislators have 60 days to balance the budget.  Any revenue increases will take a two-thirds majority of lawmakers, which most agree is highly unlikely.  Therefore, if Democrats want to increase revenue, including raising the sales tax as the governor has proposed, they will have to send the question to a vote of the people sometime this spring.