The following letter to the editor of the Seattle Times was posted on their website yesterday. I wrote the letter in response to their editorial on Sunday entitled, “State lawmakers should listen to voters on I-1185 and the two-thirds tax law.” The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on February 28, 2013 that requiring a supermajority vote of the Legislature to raise revenue or pass any other ordinary legislation was unconstitutional. The Seattle Times choose to editorialize on the issue against the decision of the Washington State Supreme Court. My response:
The Seattle Times in its recent editorial errs in it’s judgment that supermajority votes are somehow in the best interests of our state. Logic says that to require a supermajority vote to pass legislation means that the minority interest would trump the majority interest. Under Initiative 1185, if 17 State Senators out of 49 Senators said no to a revenue bill to fund education, they would prevail over any majority vote by both the state Senate and House.
As the state Supreme Court noted, “ … a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation would allow special interests to control resulting legislation. While the current Supermajority Requirement applies only to tax increases, if carried to its logical conclusion, the State’s argument could allow all legislation to be conditioned on a supermajority vote. In other words, under the State’s reasoning, a simple majority of 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 issue here is actually not just a tax issue but but an issue of how our State legislature functions and whether or not minority interests can impose roadblocks to the majority of Legislators doing their jobs. It is absurd that this supermajority requirement has hindered the Legislators from doing their job for the larger part of 20 years. Ever since voters passed I-601 by a small margin of 51% to 49% the problem has persisted, illustrating how by a simple majority vote could give a minority of 1/3 of the legislators in one House of the Legislature veto power over the majority.
As pointed out by the Washington State Supreme Court in their opinion:
“…allowing a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation alters our system of government. The framers of the United States Constitution expressed as much in the Federalist papers:
If a pertinacious minority can controul the opinion of a majority respecting the best mode of conducting it; the majority in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will over-rule that of the greater.
THE FEDERALIST NO. 22, at 141 (Alexander Hamilton) (Jacob E. Cooke ed., 1961);
accord THE FEDERALIST No. 58 (James Madison).”
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.
Chances are pretty good that another Tim Eyman initiative will be on next year’s ballot. It’s been under the radar and has gotten little scrutiny. Initiative 517 - called the “Protect the Initiative Act” is an initiative to the Legislature. It’s basic provisions are to extend the time allowed to collect signatures by an extra six months, make it a misdemeanor to interfere or harass signature gatherers, allow more local initiatives and prevent pre-election legal challenges to initiatives. The deadline to collect signatures and turn them in is January 3rd, 2013.
Eyman filed I-517 on May 4th, 2012 and quietly piggybacked it on his I-1185 campaign signature gathering efforts. As noted in the Tacoma News Tribune on September 6, 2012, a complaint was filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission charging that as a result of this piggybacking, I-517 illegally used money intended to pay for Eyman’s I-1185 signatures. The TNT noted that “Through July alone, the campaign picked up 144,000 signatures …” of some 320,000 required by Jan 3, 2013. To date the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has not acted publicly on this complaint. One can well argue that this is a self serving initiative to benefit Tim Eyman and his initiative business. It is special interest legislation that would give Eyman the ability to do more initiative campaigns and at a lower cost. That is hardly what Washington State needs – more Eyman initiatives.
According to the most recent Public Disclosure Commission reports, Eyman has raised no money to fund this initiative. Instead he reports that all the signature gathering to date paid for has been in kind donations by others. The bulk of the money spent in kind has been by an out of state conservative foundation called – Citizens in Charge out of Lakeridge, VA. To date they have donated in kind some $168,806.38 out of a total of $305,454 reported in kind total. Here is a breakdown of reported in kind donations from the PDC reports.
Citizens in Charge, Lakeridge, VA – $168, 806.38
People’s Petitioning, Edmonds, WA – $42,712
First Amendment, LLC, Olympia, WA – $7267.50
The remainder of the money, some $86,305 is now listed as individual in kind donations, mostly by paid signature gatherers. This is Eyman’s attempt to get around the complaint that signature gatherers for I-1185 subsidized signature gathering for I-517. The problem is, if you read some of the e-mails involved, that appears to be a big question. Paid signature gatherers for I-1185 were told among other things that they had to also get signatures for I–517 or they would be fired. Here is that part of the story as reported by the Tacoma News Tribune:
The PDC is investigating whether I-517 illegally used part of the money intended for I-1185.
That’s what’s alleged by critics such as Rick Walther. The Auburn signature gatherer says he was fired for refusing to reduce payments to his subcontractors for I-1185 signatures unless they also collected for I-517.
He said he and other gatherers were expected to take the money out of what had already been promised to them for the business-backed measure.
“All this money’s still coming from 1185,” Walther said of the arrangements. “There’s no new money for 517. They’re just moving funds around.”
The campaign denies using any money from I-1185 – instead leaning on petitioners’ interest in the topic to drive a volunteer effort. …
Directing the I-517 effort is Edward Agazarm, nicknamed “Eddie Spaghetti,” a fixture of Washington’s voter-petition industry.
His emails don’t exactly make it sound like a volunteer effort.
“If you don’t bring in equal numbers you are fired,” Agazarm wrote to another signature-gathering contractor, in what critics say is an order to collect a voter signature on I-517 for every signature petitioners were paid to collect on I-1185.
“Every petitioner in the state should get free SIGNATURES ON IT or else they should be fired, then stoned to death in a public square,” he said in another email.
So one has to ask why the PDC has not yet acted on this complaint with formal charges of some sort or referred the matter to the State Attorney General for more severe action than the PDC can impose. The e-mails are pretty explicit that paid signature gatherers were coerced into collecting signatures for I-517 in order to be paid for I-1185 signatures. Will Eyman once again just get a slap on the wrist and continue on his merry way carrying on his initiative mill that helps pay his personal bills or will the PDC act forcefully by referring this matter to the Washington State Attorney General?
Here is more specific information on I-517:
|Protect the Initiative Act|
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.View Complete Text
Here is a list of articles and editorials giving reasons why to VOTE NO on TIM EYMAN’S INITIATIVE-1185:
Budget and Policy Center – Six Reasons Why Supermajority Requirements to Raise Taxes Are a Bad Idea
Washington Budget and Policy Center – Supermajority Law’s Damaging Legacy: I-1185 Would Renew A Policy That Has Eliminated Jobs and Thwarted Economic Recovery in Washington State http://budgetandpolicy.org/reports/supermajority-laws-damaging-legacy
SeattlePI.com – Chamber – Surprise ‘no’ to Eyman Initiative http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2012/09/12/chamber-surprise-no-to-eyman-initiative/
The News Tribune - I-1185 Voters: Don’t also Expect more state services
Northwest Progressive Institute - Initiative 1185 – an Attack on Democracy
Everett Herald – Vote No on Eyman’s I-1185
Crosscut – I-1185: Will the Circle be unbroken on Eyman tax measures?
The Daily World – Endorsements-“No” on 1185 & 502, yes on gay marriage“- http://thedailyworld.com/sections/opinion/columnist/endorsements-%E2%80%94-%E2%80%9Cno%E2%80%9D-1185-502-%E2%80%9Cyes%E2%80%9D-gay-marriage.html
Majority Rules – Corporate Oil and Beer Profits Fuel Eyman’s I-1185 Signature Drive http://www.majorityrules.org/2012/06/corporate-oil-and-beer-profits-fuel-eymans-i-1185-signature-drive.html
Permanent Defense – complete text of King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller’s decision in LEV v. State, the lawsuit filed by teachers, parents, and lawmakers against Tim Eyman’s Initiaive 1053.
It’s a strange combination but corporate oil and beer profits fuel the signature drive for Eyman’s current initiative. Oil and water may not mix but it looks like oil and beer profits do. Latest reports from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission show corporate interests dumping in most of the $964,713 reported for Eyman’s I-1185 campaign to re-enact a 2/3 voting requirement by the legislature to raise revenue.
This latest million dollar corporate campaign to restrict the Washington State Legislature’s ability to raise funds is happening despite the recent King County Superior Court decision declaring that the 2/3 vote restriction in Initiative 1053 is unconstitutional. The decision by Superior Court Judge Bruce F Heller was issued on May 31, 2012. While this decision will likely be reviewed by the Washington State Supreme Court. Judge Heller’s Memorandum Opinion is pretty clear and simple.
Heller decleared that “The majority provision of Art. II, Section 22 is a clear restriction on the legislature’s power to require more than a majority vote for passage of tax measures. This restriction applies to statures initiated by the legislature and to statues passed pursuant to voter initiatives, While initiative measures reflect the reserved power of the people to legislate, the people in their legislative capacity remain subject to mandates of the Constitution, Gerberding, 134 Wn.2d at 196. RCW 43.135.024(1) is therefore unconstitutional.”
Despite this clear decision corporate interests persist in trying to prevent the Legislature from voting to directly raise revenue to fund basic state needs or to recoup revenue lost to non performing or under performing tax exemptions that are not benefiting Washington state or its citizens.
On May 16, the Beer Institute out of Washington DC dropped in $400,000 dollars to help pay Citizen Solutions, Eyman’s signature gathering firm. BP Oil out of Chicago, Il added $100,000 as did Conoco Phillips Company out of Washington DC. The Washington Restaurant Association added $25,000.
Meanwhile the Association of Washington Business acting to shield the true source of their money, paid $185,000 directly to Citizen Solutions. It was reported as an In Kind donation by Eyman. Where did the Association of Washington Business get the money from? Their public disclosure report shows that they received $100,000 from the American Beverage Association in Washington, DC and another $100,000 from Tesoro Companies in San Antonio, Texas. In addition they got $50,000 from Equilion Enterprises in Houston Texas, and $50,000 from Shell Oil Company in Sacramento, California.
In a press report where Jay Inslee, the Democratic candidate for Governor of Washington accused the Assocation of Washington Business of collecting money from Tesoro to support Inslee’s Republican opponent Rob McKenna, the AWB denied the accusation and said the money was passed on to Citizen Solutions to pay for collecting signatures on I-1185.
Big corporate interests are again looking out for their bottom line. Oil companies love it that Eyman is using his anti tax mantra to promote a measure that helps protect their profits. Eyman is selling his snake oil potion to the citizen taxpayers of Washington State as something that benefits them. Unfortunately what it does is lock in a regressive tax system that soaks low income taxpayers and lets corporate profiteers off the hook for new taxes and prevents the legislature from repealing special interest tax breaks oil companies and others enjoy.
Oil companies are opposing a State Legislative proposed increase in the toxic substances tax that would have been used to clean up stormwater runoff contaminated by oil byproducts. Here in Washington state oil companies are soaking up profits like mad as our gasoline prices are the highest in the nation. We pay higher gas prices so they can pay Eyman to put in place a measure that would stop the legislature from charging them to help clean up an environmental problem caused by toxic oil in stormwater runoff entering our strearms, rivers and Puget Sound. Gas prices right now are the highest in the lower 48 states.
Three of the companies contributing to Eyman’s campaign are Shell oil companies. Besides Shell itself, Tesoro Industries and Equilon Enterprises are affiliated with Shell. Equilion is doing business in Washington State as Shell Oil Products and has a crude oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington. Tesoro Industries also has a refinery in Anacortes and markets under the Shell name among others. In 2010 there was an explosion at the Tesoro Refinery at Anacortes, Washington that killed 5 workers.
Can Shell afford to help Tim Eyman? I suppose their $8.7 billion dollar profit in the first quarter of 2012 left them with some spare change. BP Oil reported a profit of $5.9 billion and Conoco Phillips a profit of $2.9 billion. To them a few hundred million to prevent the Washington State Legislature from having them help pay for cleaning up oil contaminated stormwater runoff is just another small investment in protecting their profits.
The taxpayers of Washington State, who are paying the highest gas prices in the United States, are the suckers unfortunately who suffer from both oil contaminated water and a regressive tax system that doesn’t tax the wealthy the same as lower income brackets. This is because Eyman’s 2/3 vote requirement for raising revenue or repealing corporate tax exemptions forces the legislature to cut public services like education and health care for seniors and children rather than do tax reform and make the system fairer and more equitable.
Washington voters and taxpayers need to wake up to the reality that letting a minority of 1/3 of the Legislators in one House dictate tax policy benefits the wealthy and Big Corporations a lot more than moderate and low income working families. Why else are the Oil and Beverage Companies funding I-1185? It’s their corporate profits that’s driving their actions, not their civic altruism.
Don’t sign I-1185 or vote for it if it makes the ballot.
Big Oil loves Tim Eyman. They love him so much they’re have given him $200,000 this year to protect their corporate profits and tax loopholes from the Washington State Legislature. They love it that he helped them two years ago prevent the Legislature from asking them to help clean up oil polluted stormwater in our state. They love it that voters said the Legislature needed a 2/3 vote to tax corporations and end profitable tax loopholes they have.
Eyman is busy carrying their water as he scurries to pay his minions to get signatures on I-1185 his “son” of 1053. I-1053 was passed by voters in 2010 and said the Legislature needed to get a 2/3 vote in both houses to raise new revenue or close any tax loopholes. For 2 years after an initiative passes it takes a 2/3 vote of the Legislature to amend an initiative. After that it takes a simple majority.
So Eyman is trying to put I-1185 before the voters to reset the clock for another 2 years.
The 2/3 vote requirement initially was in I-601 and then in I-960. Both these measures barely passed 51% to 49%. Two years ago in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression and with high unemployment the measure passed with a 64% vote after opponents waited until the last few weeks to try to oppose it but it was too late.
Now voters can see the consequences of a no new taxes proposal which is what I-1185 is and what I-1053 is. Austerity so to speak is another w0rd for protecting corporate profits while cutting services to the elderly, the sick and young kids. Corporate interests like BP and Conoco Phillips continue to rack up huge profits and contribute to the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.
On April 4, 2012 BP Oil out of Chicago gave Eyman $100,000. Eyman immediately passed it on to his buddy Roy Ruffino at Citizen Solutions out of Olympia. Citizen Solutions is paying signature gatherers $1.00 per signature and pocketing a fee for itself of course.
BP last year reported a net profit of $23.9 billion. $ 100,000 is peanuts to BP.
On April 20, 2012 Conoco Phillips added another $100,000, Small peanuts to them also that they can write off as a business expense. After expenses Conoco Phillips reported a 1st quarter Jan – March 2012 profit of $2.94 billion.
Isn’t it great that if you are a big corporation and you can buy yourself a place on the ballot and you can have friends like Tim Eyman to help you fool the public into supporting your corporate profits at the expense of diminishing public services that benefit the public.
Don’t sign I-1185! Don’t support Big Oil’s power grab of the Washington State Legislature. Big Oil is not concerned about the well being of Washington State or its citizens. They are only concerned about increasing the bottom line of their business and their shareholders.
Tim Eyman is out getting signatures on his latest initiative for gridlock in Washington State. It is nothing new but a recycling of a failed experiment – namely that blocking the Legislature’s ability to raise revenue or repeal non-performing tax exemptions is good for Washington State. That policy has been a dismal failure.
Initiative 1185 is an attempt to get voters to re-pass Initiative 1053 which was passed by voters in 2010. Initiative 1053 required Legislators to get a 2/3 vote in the House and the Senate for any measure that raised revenue to fund state services.
Not once in 16 years has the Legislature been able to raise revenue under the 2/3 voting requirement because only a 1/3 minority of Legislators in either House can block a revenue increase. This statement was given recently in a Superior Court case attempting to declare I-1053 and its 2/3 vote requirement as unconstitutional.
The reason Eyman is recycling his 2/3 vote requirement is so that the Legislature can not amend I-1053 without a 2/3 majority. The Washington State Constitution allows the legislature to amend initiatives by a simple majority after 2 years but requires a 2/3 vote for the first two years after passage. Re-passing I-1053 as I-1185 would reset the 2/3 requirement for another 2 years.
I-1053 was supported by Big Oil, Wall Street Banks and other corporate interests that didn’t want the state to repeal special interest tax exemptions and loopholes or require them to pay more for the benefits of doing business in Washington State.
Eyman portrayed I-1053 as a measure to protect the average citizen taxpayer from big government but the reality is that 1053 is really a Corporate Tax Loophole Protection Act. Tax Loopholes exempt many corporations from paying taxes at the same rate as others. In essence it shifts the tax responsibility to other tax payers like working families.
I-1185, like I-1053, would require a 2/3 vote to repeal tax loopholes even if they are providing no benefit to the state. Tax exemptions only require a simple majority to pass in the first place. Meanwhile cuts to state services like education for our children and health care for seniors have been cut. Only a simple majority was needed to cut that funding.
I-1185 would continue tax protection for corporations while forcing more cuts in state services. As service costs increase due to inflation and revenue doesn’t increase due to a lagging economy more cuts will be necessary. Don’t sign Initiative 1185. It time to bring some sanity back to how we fund state services.
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