In a decision that guarantees the state’s 18 year old voter-approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases will remain at the forefront of the public debate, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller ruled today the tax protection requirement is unconstitutional. This means the state Supreme Court one way or another will finally be forced to rule on the issue instead of punting as it has done in the past (most recently in 2007 and 2009). At the same time, Mr. Tim Eyman is gathering signatures on I-1185 to provide voters this fall with their fifth opportunity to approve the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases.

While the state Supreme Court considers this issue voters could take the opportunity to treat I-1185 (assuming it qualifies for the ballot) as a referendum on the 2/3 requirement for tax increases to help encourage the Legislature to put the issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. If adopted, I-1185 would represent the 2/3 requirement for tax increases going five for five with voters at the ballot box over the past 19 years. It’s hard to imagine a stronger justification for lawmakers to provide voters one more shot (this time with teeth) at this policy via a constitutional amendment.

At the local level, the Pierce County Council voted yesterday to send voters a charter amendment to require a supermajority vote of council members for local tax increases (local tax increases are not currently subject to the 2/3 vote requirement in state law).

Here is the track record for the state 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of law (Revised Code of Washington 43.135) containing the two-thirds vote requirement, the Legislature has never fully repealed the voter-passed mandate that tax increases require a two-thirds vote.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.

Additional Information
State argues 18 year old 2/3 vote requirement for taxes is constitutional (2012)
House Democrats set the stage to sue voters
McKenna on tax increases, 2/3 vote requirement and competitive contracting
Inslee on income tax and 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases
Court dismisses lawsuit to remove 2/3 tax protections
Court punts; I-601 survives (2007)


[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured photo credit: alt text]