In a ruling on March 2, 2015, Brad Owen, the Lt Governor of Washington State and presiding officer and President of the Washington Senate did the right thing. He declared that the Senate rule passed by the Republicans in the Washington State Senate earlier this year to require a 2/3 vote to raise revenue was unconstitutional and thus void. As noted in a press release by the Northwest Progressive Institute, Brad Owen stated:
“The President has previously stated, The Senate cannot pass a rule that violates the state Constitution,” …: “Perhaps that statement should be clarified to read, The Senate may adopt an unconstitutional rule, but the President will not enforce it.”
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that requiring a 2/3 vote of legislators to raise revenue was unconstitutional because the Washington State Constitution said laws shall be passed by majority votes. As written in the Tacoma News Tribune at the time:
“The language and history of the constitution evince a principle favoring a simple majority vote for legislation,” wrote Justice Susan Owens for the 6-3 majority (previous posts mistakenly said Chief Justice Madsen wrote majority). “The State’s proposed reading of article II, section 22 would fundamentally alter our system of government, and such alteration is possible only through constitutional amendment. Washington’s government was founded as a representative democracy based on simple majority rule.” “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.”
Brad Owen based his decision on the Washington State Supreme Court decision. As reported by the Tacoma News Tribune
“The state Senate’s presiding officer said Monday he won’t enforce a Senate rule making it harder to raise taxes. The rule violates the state constitution, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen ruled. With the ruling by Owen, a Democrat, the votes of 25 of 49 senators are required to move a tax through the Senate, the same 50-percent-plus-one majority as required in the House. The rule required a two-thirds supermajority to bring a bill to a final vote if the bill created new taxes. In invalidating it, Owen relied on a 2013 state Supreme Court ruling striking down voter-passed requirements for two-thirds supermajorities for taxes.”
Unfortunately the Tacoma News also gives a plug for libertarian anti tax Tim Eyman who for years pushed the unconstitutional 2/3 voting requirement in initiative campaigns. He is now pushing a “Ted Cruz style shut down the government stop educating our kids until I get my way” initiative. While he likes the 2/3 voting proposal when it suits his purpose, he hates it when it is an obstacle to get his way.
The Washington State Supreme Court said the only way a 2/3 rule could apply was if it was in the Washington State Constitution. But that’s the kicker – it takes a 2/3 vote of the legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Eyman doesn’t have anywhere near what he needs for 2/3 since Republicans are his main base of support. And they are in the minority in the House and barely 2 votes over a majority in the Senate.
Eyman’s answer –Initiative 1366 – have voter’s cut $1 billion from the state budget until they put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Voters would be ill served by starting to hold the legislature hostage to ransom since voters would be the ones suffering by seeing public education and other services cut even more.
Many voters miss the connection that who really benefits are large corporations who don’t want to pay taxes like for cleaning up their pollution. Big oil companies like BP and Tesoro gave Eyman big money in the past so the Legislature couldn’t raise funds from them to clean up oil pollution. It the average individual and family taxpayers who suffer as a result because they have to pay instead of the polluters who are making huge profits.
In addition BP and other corporations don’t want to see their tax loopholes end. While they only take a majority vote to enact, under the 2/3 proposal it would take a 2/3 vote of the Legislature to end them, even if they provided no benefit to the state. The 2/3 vote proposal actually puts the minority in charge of tax policy since 1/3 of the Legislators in either house could then block tax legislation.
All in all it is a bad dealer for working families and most taxpayers in our state. Corporations love the idea. Don’t be fooled. Don’t support Eyman’s latest corporate benefiting initiative that would further damage education in our state. Don’t sign Initiative 1366. And don’t vote for it, if his paid signature gatherers help him make it onto the November ballot.