Tax vote supermajority nixed

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SEATTLE — The Washington Supreme Court has struck down a requirement for a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to pass a tax increase.

A divided high court ruled 6-3 Thursday that an initiative requiring a two-thirds vote was in conflict with the state Constitution. The court also rules lawmakers and the people of Washington would need to pass a constitutional amendment to change from a simple majority to a supermajority.

A coalition of lawmakers and education groups sued the state over the issue, and a King County judge decided last spring that the state constitution requires only a simple majority to pass tax proposals. The Supreme Court agreed to expedite its consideration.

The two-thirds majority rule has been approved in a series of initiatives pushed by activist Tim Eyman.

Voters most recently approved the supermajority rule last November.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Susan Owens, states that under a commonsense understanding, any bill receiving a simple majority vote will become law. No language in the provision qualifies that requirement by stating a bill needs “at least a majority vote.”

They wrote that without the simple majority rule in the Constitution, the people or the Legislature could require particular bills to receive 90 percent approval rather than just a two-thirds approval, thus essentially ensuring that those types of bills would never pass.

“Such a result is antithetical to the notion of a functioning government and should be rejected as such,” the justices wrote.

Correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this story from Olympia.

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