Acting on behalf of the state the Attorney General’s Office has once again argued the 1993 voter-approved requirement for a 2/3 vote to raise taxes is constitutional (policy has been subsequently re-approved by the voters and legislature on multiple occasions).
Here are some pull quotes from the state’s motion for summary judgment in the most recent legal challenge:
“Plaintiff non-profit corporations assert that they have an interest in successfully lobbying the legislature to enact laws that they and their members would support, and that would advance their public policy preferences. Successfully lobbying the legislature is not a right or legally protected interest, and the corporate Plaintiffs do not (and could not) assert that RCW 43.135.034(1) prevents them from lobbying the legislature to promote their interests . . .
The twelve Plaintiff legislators similarly fail to demonstrate a genuine and substantial right or legally protected interest necessary for a cause of action challenging the two-thirds supermajority provision of RCW 43.135.034(1). Plaintiff legislators assert a ‘constitutional right as elected officials to advance bills through the legislative process.’ As discussed immediately below, the right asserted by Plaintiff legislators actually amounts to an alleged right to advance and pass bills that they and their fellow legislators have determined not to advance or pass. Plaintiff legislators have no such right or legal interest . . .
The supermajority vote provision of RCW 43.135.034(1) did not prevent the house from passing SHB 2078. What prevented the house from passing SHB 2078 was the decision of the members of the house – including each of the twelve individual Plaintiff legislators in this case – not to appeal the speaker’s parliamentary ruling and, on a simple majority vote, overrule it . . .
As to Plaintiff individual legislators, the two-thirds supermajority vote provision of RCW 43.135.034(1) may make it politically difficult to raise taxes, but freedom from political difficulty is not a right or legally protected interest of Plaintiff legislators . . .
Article II, section 22, by its plain language, establishes a constitutional minimum of a simple majority vote for bill passage. It does not, either expressly or by fair inference, prohibit statutes that require greater than a simple majority vote for passage. (And, of course, any bill receiving a supermajority vote has received a simple majority.) Absent such a limitation, the legislature, or the people, are free to express their legislative policy judgment that certain types of bills warrant greater than simple majority consensus for passage. RCW 43.135.034(1) expresses such a policy judgment—that a two-thirds majority vote of each house should be required for passage of bills raising taxes.”
Here is the motion for summary judgment of those challenging the 18 year old 2/3 vote requirement.
A hearing has been scheduled for February 17 for the judge to consider these proposals.
Regardless of what the judge rules, lawmakers should end this debate once and for all by providing Washingtonians the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment reaffirming the policy during the 2012 general election. This would provide the public and businesses with predictability about whether this tax protection will exist from year to year and clarify whether or not the repeated approval of the voters for this policy was a fluke or actually reflects their consistent and ongoing desire for lawmakers to build a strong public consensus on the need for any proposed tax increase.
Here is the track record for the 2/3 vote requirement or voter approval for taxes policy at the ballot:
- 2010: I-1053 – Required 2/3 vote or voter approval for tax increases (64% yes)
- 2007: I-960 – Required 2/3 vote or voter approval for tax increases (51% yes)
- 1999: I-695 – Required voter approval of all tax increases (56% yes)
- 1998: R-49 – Reaffirmed provisions of 1993 I-601 (57% yes)
- 1993: I-601 – Required 2/3 vote for tax increases (51% yes)
Despite numerous legislative amendments to the section of law (Revised Code of Washington 43.135) containing the two-thirds vote requirement, the legislature has never fully repealed the voter-passed mandate that tax increases require a two-thirds vote.
In fact, in 2006 the legislature shortened its own 2005 suspension and voted explicitly to reinstate the two-thirds vote requirement so its suspension ended a year sooner than it would have otherwise (SB 6896). This bill was supported only by Democrats (the bill primarily dealt with increasing the spending limit but an amendment was adopted reinstating the 2/3 vote requirement a year early).
HJR 4213 was introduced last year to provide the voters the opportunity to put the 2/3 vote requirement into the Constitution but it was not acted on. The proposal has been reintroduced for consideration in the 2012 Session.