Friday, March 1, 2013
A majority of Washington state voters — close to 64 percent in November — favor requiring approval of two-thirds of the Legislature to raise taxes. So, too, do we.
The will of the voters should be followed, and the people have approved initiatives that impose the two-third majority four separate times.
Yet, laws imposed by initiative (or the Legislature) never trump the state constitution. That’s a fact.
Thursday the state Supreme Court ruled requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote to raise taxes is unconstitutional. Justices, in a 6-3 ruling, said a constitutional amendment is necessary to place a restriction on legislative votes beyond the simple majority called for in the constitution.
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna, who argued for the two-thirds majority on behalf of citizens before the Supreme Court, contended the two-thirds majority was not unconstitutional because the simple majority mentioned in the constitution is only the minimum for approval, not the maximum. It was a sound argument.
But the majority of justices did not agree.
“The plain language, constitutional history, and weight of persuasive authority support reading this provision as setting both a minimum and a maximum voting requirement,” Justice Susan Owens wrote in the majority opinion.
A ruling has been made — it’s time to move on. The constitution needs to be amended to require the two-thirds majority.
Just hours after the high court ruling, a state Senate committee took the first step in the process. The Republican-dominated Senate Ways and Means Committee voted 13-10 to seek a constitutional change.
It won’t be easy to change the constitution.
The threshold to change the state constitution is significantly higher than approving a law as it requires a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Legislature as well as approval by the people. Getting the people’s support will be easier than gaining two-thirds majority in the House or Senate. Republicans favor the change while Democrats oppose it, and neither party holds supermajority control.
Don’t expect a constitutional amendment to gain any traction in
Olympia this year or next.
Still, the strong support among voters for a supermajority to raise taxes — as well as a prevailing public sentiment tax increases could stall an economic recovery — it’s going to be tough to get a major tax increase approved.
Legislators are elected officials who serve at the pleasure of the people.