In a 6 to 3 decision this last week the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053’s supermajority provisions for passage of revenue measures by the State Legislature was unconstitutional. In fact it went beyond revenue measures and said any attempt to require supermajority votes not in the Washington State Constitution was unconstitutional.
The decision stated that, Article II, sec. 22 of the Washington State Constitution “prohibits either the people or legislature from passing legislation requiring more than a simple majority for the passage of tax legislation – or any other ordinary legislation”. Despite this language Majority Leader Rodney Tom in the Washington State Senate immediately tried to figure a way to change the Senate rules to require a two thirds vote to raise taxes by the Legislature.
On the same day the Court issued their opinion, the Olympian reported that Tom said:
“We’re going to stand behind the will of the people. They’ve been very clear that they want it to be difficult to raise taxes,” Tom said today.
The rule would require a two-thirds supermajority or a public vote to pass any tax increase.
And passing the rule would take only a simple majority of all senators, unlike a constitutional amendment that is much less likely to pass.
Seems that legal counsel finally convinced Tom that the Washington State Supreme Court ruling also applied in principle to any rule making by the Legislature. By that didn’t stop him from trying to consider it. Here’s what the Supreme Court said about allowing a 1/3 minority of Legislators to overrule a majority:
Article II, sec. 22 “prohibits either the people or legislature from passing legislation requiring more than a simple majority for the passage of tax legislation – or any other ordinary legislation.”…
They also stated that) “The Supermajority Requirement unconstitutionally amends the constitution by imposing a two-thirds vote requirement for tax legislation.
More importantly, the Supermajority Requirement substantially alters our system of government, thus enabling a tyranny of the minority.”
The telling words here to listen to are not so much that requiring a supermajority vote to raise revenue was unconstitutional but that it allowed a 1/3 minority of legislators in one House of the Legislature to veto any majority vote of the rest of the Legislators. Under this system the minority vote prevails and the minority rules, not the majority.
It is a negation of the idea of one person one vote, saying that on revenue issues, including repealing any tax loopholes, that a State Legislator opposed to raising revenue had the equivalent of 2 votes for every one vote that a State legislator had that supported raising revenue. The result was that the No vote of 17 State senators out of 49 Senators could negate the Yes votes of 32 Senators. The minority position would win out which is what happened in almost all cases in the State Legislature while the 2/3 voting mandate was in place.
One could similarly make an argument that incumbents have an unfair advantage in running for office and need to be term limited. The equivalent to I-1053 in this instance would be if the voters agreed and passed an initiative saying that any incumbent Legislator running needed to get a supermajority vote to win or his opponent would win. Following the logic of I-1053, if the incumbent got 64% of the vote, but did not receive the 2/3 supermajority vote, then his opponent would win, even though he only got 36% of the vote. The goal of limiting re-election of incumbents would be accomplished by this action which lets a minority of voters make the decision as to who gets elected. Most voters seeing the results would cry foul. Fortunately this example is also now void as the Washington State Supreme Court specifically noted that Article II, sec. 22 of the Washington State Constitution “prohibits either the people or legislature from passing legislation requiring more than a simple majority for the passage of tax legislation – or any other ordinary legislation“ (highlighting mine).
Tim Eyman and his corporate donors for I-1185 which voters passed this last November argued that raising taxes should be harder than passing other legislation and that was why they should prevail. This is a political philosophy that represents the conservative Republican position. Yet running on that position against Democrats they have not been able to elect a majority of Republicans to the House or Senate in recent years. This year two so called Democratic Legislators, Senator Rodney Tom of the 48th LD and Senator Tim Sheldon, joined with 23 Republicans to take over the State Senate.
There is a clear difference between Republicans and Democrats on this issue that still persists. Republicans and Rodney Tom in the Senate rapidly passed SJR 8205 – Amending the Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes, out of the Ways and Means Committee to the Rules Committee, 2nd reading. Fortunately for those who agree that allowing a minority position to prevail over the votes of a majority is undemocratic, the State Constitution put amending the State Constitution in a select category of legislation requiring a 2/3 vote by both the Senate and the House and a majority vote of the people in order to pass.
The State Constitution is the framework of state government and as such should be more difficult to amend than passing a general law or raising revenue or repealing tax exemptions which the voters can put on the ballot by referendum or elect new legislators who can change the law. The absurdity of Eyman’s I-1053 and I-1185 2/3 voting mandate was that it allowed Legislators to pass tax exemptions by a simple majority vote but required a 2/3 vote to repeal them.
Eyman’s measures were strongly supported by corporate business interests like BP Oil, Conoco Phillips, Association of Washington Business, the Beer Institute and others which sought to both avoid any business tax increases or repeal of any of their tax loopholes. It was a Corporate Tax Loophole Protection Act not an act which helped most residents in Washington State because it resulted in the inability of the Legislature to raise new revenue or reform our tax system.
As noted by the broad based Washington coalition called Our Economic Future we have now cut about $10 billion dollars from the State Budget. State college tuition has doubled in 4 years. It now costs to go to State Parks. State employees and teachers have lost their jobs. Public K-12 education funding has gone down. All kinds of funding to help the needy, handicapped, kids, and unemployed have decreased. The future of our state’s economy is under attack as businesses and corporations report record profits. We need a balanced approach to taxation and funding to help the people of Washington State move into a better future.
Contact your State legislators today and urge them to oppose SJR 8205 – Amending the Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes. Go to www.leg.wa.gov and let your Legislator know you oppose a Constitutional Amendment to give a minority of Legislators veto power over the majority.