Responding to the recent King County Superior Court ruling calling into question the 18 year-old voter-approved supermajority requirement for tax increases, Initiative 1185 sponsor Tim Eyman writes in this op-ed (in-part):

“The two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes has been approved by voters four times (we’re working hard to give voters a fifth opportunity with this year’s Initiative 1185). During legislative sessions it’s been in effect, it’s done exactly what the voters wanted, making tax increases a last resort and forcing elected officials to work together to prioritize spending and reform government. But during sessions that the Legislature has suspended the two-thirds requirement, it’s only been a debate about which taxes to increase, how to much to increase them, and which poor and working- class taxpayers get targeted. Twenty years of experience has removed all doubt that politicians cannot be trusted to make tax increases a last resort without the two-thirds vote requirement.”

Mr. Eyman isn’t the only one to comment on the Court ruling. On the other side of the debate is this op-ed from John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (in-part):

“By requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote in the Legislature to close tax loopholes or otherwise increase revenue, the measures effectively give veto power to just 17 of the state’s 49 senators. So when the Great Recession hit, we didn’t require the wealthy few to pay back a little more of what they’ve gained by living here. We didn’t end tax loopholes that make small businesses pay almost twice as much proportionally in taxes than the elite corporations . . . Without I-1053, legislators get back all of their rightful constitutional tools for budgeting and policy making. Then it will be up to the voters to ensure they use those tools to create economic opportunity and progress in our state by investing in K-12 education, higher education, health care, and job creation.”

Here is a sampling of the other editorials from across the state:

  • “One of the most intriguing ironies in Washington state politics in recent years occurred in the fall of 2010. When voters were asked if a two-thirds majority of the Legislature should be required to increase taxes, although only a majority approval by those voters was needed, almost two-thirds of them supported that ballot measure, Initiative 1053. The precise percentage was 63.7 statewide (71.3 percent in Clark County). That overwhelming support was not surprising. Voters had done the same thing in 1993, 1998 and 2007.Apparently oblivious to that mandate, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller on Wednesday ruled that I-1053 is unconstitutional. But the legal battle is far from over . . . The logic of the electorate has been rock-solid, but the arguments of I-1053 opponents have been flimsy. One complaint is that I-1053 destroys the legislators’ ability to solve problems by raising revenue through tax increases. That’s simply not true. I-1053 only makes it more difficult to raise taxes. If lawmakers want to do so, then they can write the bill, acquire two-thirds approval in the Legislature, and go to town on increasing taxes. That failing, here’s yet another strategy for would-be revenue raisers: increase fees instead. Even I-1053 said ‘new or increased fees require majority legislative approval.'” – Vancouver Columbian (Don’t Ignore the Voters)
  • “Initiative 1053 sets a two-thirds voting requirement in both chambers for the Legislature to increase taxes, or simple majorities plus a vote of the people. It is a law that expresses the people’s distrust of legislators and makes work difficult for them. This page supported it because we thought the state’s budget problems should be met with reforms and spending cuts, and that a two-thirds rule would steer decisions in that direction. It did. The rule works. We do not argue that Heller is legally mistaken. The Washington Constitution does not allow an initiative to raise the threshold for passing a law. Nor does it disallow it. Given that the Supreme Court can decide either way, we believe the court should let the people have what they want. They clearly want this. In 2010 they voted 64 percent in favor of a two-thirds rule. They voted for it in 2007, 1999, 1998 and 1993. Signatures are being collected now for I-1185, which would allow them to vote for it in November. And they will vote for it.” – Seattle Times (State Supreme Court should support I-1053, the two-thirds tax rule)
  • “Voters have approved multiple initiatives that call for supermajorities to approve tax increases, and we’ve endorsed them. The Legislature has set them aside in the course of writing budgets. This seemingly endless loop could continue if the state Supreme Court rules that a supermajority requirement is constitutionally sound. Or, it will end if the court upholds Heller’s ruling. We urge the court to decide this quickly and definitively, because the next legislature must grapple with financing basic education, which, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, has become more urgent. If the supermajority standard is struck down, then a bid to adopt a constitutional amendment is waiting in the wings. State Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, has already announced her intention to propose an amendment when lawmakers convene in January. That option would appear to be the best, because it would settle this long-running battle once and for all. Plus, an amendment itself would need the support of two-thirds of both legislative chambers, which is fitting since it would bind future legislatures to the same standard for tax hikes.” Spokesman Review (Amendment would end seesaw over raising taxes)
  • “Given an opportunity to restrict state spending by initiative, they [voters] do it every time, by immense margins. Given the chance to slap an income tax on the rich in 2010, they killed Initiative 1098 by almost two to one – electoral obliteration of nuclear magnitude. Lots of people who’d voted Democrat on candidates turned around and voted Republican on taxes. One theory about those seemingly conflicted voters is that they kind of agree with Democrats’ policy goals; they just don’t want to spend a penny on them. Hence their approval of expensive class size and teacher pay initiatives in 2000 – and their refusal to approve new money for them. The two-thirds requirement that Heller struck down has been on the books since 1995. Democrats and Republicans have both used it for political cover. If the Supreme Court throws it out, Washingtonians will face a hard choice: Either keep on electing Democratic majorities who’d have a much easier time raising the hated taxes, or start electing Republicans majorities who want a far more austere government.” – Tacoma News Tribune (Voting D and taxing R won’t work without Initiative 1053)
  • “Initiative 1053 was the most recent of numerous attempts to require a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state Legislature to approve any increase in taxes. Voters approved similar measures in 2007, 1999, 1998 and 1993. Proponents of I-1053, primarily but not exclusively conservatives and Republicans, may have expected an adverse ruling from Heller. Almost before the ink was dry on Heller’s opinion, they announced that a drive had begun to place yet another initiative mandating 66.6-percent majorities for all tax increases on this fall’s ballot. Assuming this proposal — labeled as Initiative 1185 — reaches the voters, we would certainly expect them to approve it again. They’ve approved it in good economies and bad ones. They’ve approved it while simultaneously ushering four consecutive Democrats into the Governor’s Mansion. They want it. We do, too.” – Longview Daily News (Honor voters’ wishes on two-thirds majority)
  • “Washington state’s voters approved in 2010 — by a wide margin — a mandate that any tax increase must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the state House and Senate. That was the fourth time voters have approved a two-thirds mandate. But earlier this week a King County Superior Court judge ruled the latest initiative unconstitutional. He said the supermajority vote requirement ‘violates the simple majority provision” of the state constitution. The ruling has sparked outrage by those who believe a judge should, under no circumstances, overrule the will of the people. While we believe this measure ultimately will be ruled constitutional, we also understand constitutional provisions always trump laws approved through the initiative process as well as the Legislature. The threshold to change the state constitution is significantly higher as it requires a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Legislature as well as approval by the people. In addition, it’s too early to be outraged. This week’s ruling is only one step in the process to determine whether the mandates of the initiative are constitutional.” – Walla Walla Union Bulletin (Appeal of supermajority ruling prudent)

While the state Supreme Court considers this issue our hope is that voters 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.

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)

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: s_falkow]