Tag Archives: revenue

Supermajority Vote Requirement for Washington State Legislators as Proposed by I-1053 is Unconstitutional

This issue should have been decided long ago by the Washington State Supreme Court. Any attempt to limit the Washington State Legislature from enacting revenue bills or repealing non-performing tax exemptions by requiring a supermajority vote is unconstitutional. Initiative 1053 is unconstitutional and should be rejected by voters this November.

The Washington State Constitution is very clear on this issue.

Article II, Section 22 states:

“PASSAGE OF BILLS. No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.

It does not state that more than a majority vote can be required. Initiative 1053 tries to change that by requiring Legislators to act by a 2/3 supermajority vote in both Houses to enact revenue measures or repeal tax exemptions. It happens to be revenue in this case but it could just as easy be environmental protections or labor issues or race issues or women’s issues or any other issue.

The fact of the matter is that anything more than 50% to pass a bill would give Legislators on one side of the issue more power than the other side in determining the outcome of a vote.  Requiring a 2/3 vote to pass a measure means that the vote of 1/3 of the Legislators can prevail over the vote of 2/3 of the Legislators.

A majority vote gives both sides on a issue equal voting power  to pass or reject legislation. Everyone’s vote has equal weight. It’s the basic concept of one person/one vote. But a 2/3 vote requirement for Legislators to pass something means that 1/3 of the Legislators can prevent passage;  in essence giving the vote of those opposed to a measure  twice the weight of someone voting for the measure.

This sets up a two tiered system of weighted votes, something that is not in the State Constitution for passing legislation.  It distorts the process of representational government. Initiative 1053 tries to change the Washington State Constitution by saying that in some cases your elected Senator or Representative will represent you with one full vote to decide an issue but in cases involving raising revenue or repealing non-performing tax exemptions, they will essentially only have the equivalent of half a vote to decide the issue if they vote yes. If they vote no their vote will represent a full vote.

This is the flaw in supermajority votes. Under a 2/3 majority vote requirement to pass some issues, it sets up a system that essentially assigns Legislators the equivalent of half a vote if they vote yes or a full vote if they vote no on certain issues.

While I-1053 would require supermajority votes for deciding to raise revenue or repeal non-performing tax exemptions, it only requires a simple majority to pass itself. It does not require a 2/3 vote.

Washington voters are certainly not overwhelmed by this proposal based on past voting. In the one instance in which it was mentioned specifically in the ballot title, it just barely passed. That was Initiative 960 in 2007. It only received a 51.24% yes vote. That is nowhere near the 2/3 voting requirement it is asking the State Legislature to operate under.

In 1993, the 2/3 vote requirement was an issue in Initiative 601, even though it was not specifically mentioned in the ballot title.  It also just barely passed with a 51.21 % yes vote.

Eyman mentions this measure passing 3 times which is misrepresenting the issue. In 1998 voters passed Referendum 49. It’s subject dealt with motor vehicle excise taxes, bonds for highways and spending limits. Nowhere was a 2/3 vote requirement mentioned in the ballot title or official arguments for the voters pamphlet by supporters and opponents as referenced by the League of Women Voters.

These attempts to negate the concept of 1 person/1 vote for Legislators voting are unconstitutional. They are attempts to assign different voting powers to different Legislators depending on whether they vote for or against a particular measure. The Washington State Constitution does not allow the ability to weight votes for bills depending on the subject.

Article I, Section 29 states:

CONSTITUTION MANDATORY. The provisions of this Constitution are mandatory, unless by express words they are declared to be otherwise.

The State Constitution does not set up the power to weight votes depending on a Legislator’s position on a bill.

The issue of revenue/taxes is specifically addressed in another part of the Washington State Constitution.

Article VII, Section 1 states:

TAXATION. The power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away.

Initiative 1053 is obviously an attempt to take away the Legislator’s authority to raise revenue or taxes to support public services. The only way this can be altered is by a constitutional amendment.

An initiative or legislative bill can not amend the state constitution. That requires a constitutional amendment. Because constitutional amendments affect the basic framework of how our government works, it is a specific instance where the state constitution spells out a requirement for a 2/3 vote by the Legislature and a majority vote of the people to pass. Two other instances spelled out for 2/3 votes by the Legislature are to expel a member of the house and a 2/3 vote in the first 2 years to amend an initiative.

No where does the Washington State Constitution say that voters can by a simple majority vote on an initiative, limit the power of Legislators to pass revenue legislation or repeal under-performing tax exemptions  by requiring supermajority votes. Under Article I, Section 29 to do so would require express words and no such words exist in the Constitution.

Initiative 1053 should be rejected by voters this November. It is unconstitutional. Uphold our Constitution by voting No on 1053 this November 2nd!

New Report Confirms Initiative 1033 Will Make Recovery Worse for Washington State

A just released report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government confirms analysis that Initiative 1033, if passed by voters in November, will likely make economic recovery in Washington State more difficult. While not directly addressing I-1033, the negative impact of the initiative is clear from the current economic figures.

Steeply declining revenue would reset the baseline from which next year’s inflation plus population growth would occur under I-1033. Analysis by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center notes that deceases in revenue during a recession will permanently lower the baseline and revenue to fund government services in future years.

The Rockefeller Report is entitled “State Tax Decline in Early 2009 was the Sharpest on Record“. Overall it notes that “State tax collections for the first quarter of 2009 showed a drop of 11.7%, the sharpest decline in the 46 years for which quarterly data are available. Combining the census Bureau’s quarterly data with its annual statistical series, which extends back to 1952, the most recent decline in state tax revenues was the worst on record.”

The figures given for Washington State in the report in Table 9 points to a 13.2% drop in sales tax and a 9% overall drop in quarterly state tax revenue comparing the January – March 2008 revenue to the January – March 2009 revenue.

The report also notes in looking ahead for all states that “The January – March quarter was the worst on record for states. The worst decline in sales tax in 50 years represents historic weakness in one of two major tax sources for states. Preliminary data for the April – June quarter suggest that fiscal conditions deteriorated even further …Such extraordinary weakness in revenues, along with continued if more moderate growth in expenditures, make widespread budget shortfalls highly likely this year.”

For Washington State a decreased revenue baseline under I-1033 will mean the emergency budget cuts this year become permanent budget cuts. There will be no new money to reduce classroom size or fund educational reform. Cuts to state health care are permanent. Cuts to all state services will not be restored. And future budget cuts due to the recession lowering the state’s revenue baseline will be necessary.

A state budget that only keeps pace with inflation and population growth under I-1033 is at best only able to keep pace with decreased purchasing power and increased population growth. An ever decreasing ability to fund government services under the recession resetting baseline that I-1033 mandates allows its sponsor Tim Eyman to follow in the footsteps of conservative Grover Norquist and his goal to continually reduce government spending and drown it in the bathtub.

The problem with this philosophy is that it doesn’t track reality. The free market economy does not solve many of society’s problems. Government is needed to help meet basic needs and provide balance and legal protections from those motivated by self interest and greed. History has shown us the shortcomings of societies that only serve the privileged few. It is the vision of being compassionate and providing legal protections and helping people that sets us apart from those like Eyman that make it their life’s mission to berate government serving people.

Taxes provide police and fire protection, free libraries, health care, roads and buses and sidewalks, education, environmental protection, parks and much more. Those that berate taxes like Eyman too often demagogue the issues while using these public services.

Eyman for example went to Washington State University and received a subsidy of his education because public tax dollars paid part of the cost. Maybe he should refund what the state paid for his education. Likewise he went to public school – maybe he should refund what others paid for his education there.

One could go on and on – the point is that government is not some evil leach sucking up tax dollars. It is providing benefits day in and day out that we all use and too frequently take for granted. Taxes are part of the cost we pay to live in our society. While no one really likes to pay taxes, we all benefit from the multitude of services government provides.

You can also find a write up of the Rockefeller Institute report in today’s New York Times.