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Reaction to Washington Supreme Court striking down two-thirds supermajorities for tax increases

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 28, 2013 at 9:08 am with No Comments »
February 28, 2013 10:43 am
Laurie Jinkins

UPDATED 10:45 a.m.

The Supreme Court’s ruling today striking down 20-year-old tax handcuffs on the Legislature will likely give new energy to those on both sides of the debate.

Opponents of the two-thirds-for-taxes rules will be able to dust off their wish list of tax breaks to eliminate and taxes to raise.

Pam Roach

The job just got easier for all the business and labor groups pushing for a transportation tax package in the Legislature. And education advocates have new hope of being able to find new state revenue to deal with that OTHER Supreme Court ruling: the one that says lawmakers aren’t putting enough money into schools.

“I think this is a victory for my kid and all the kids in Washington,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

To persuade the courts to take a serious look at it rather than punt as they have done in the past, House Democrats in 2011 staged an elaborate attempt to  take a tax break away from big banks, pushing forward a bill sponsored by Jinkins that would use the bank revenue to fund schools. They would later get Republican help to kill the tax exemption, but at that time, it fell short of a supermajority — just as the Democrats had anticipated. That allowed them to sue, saying that the requirement had kept them from raising money for education.

The court cited Jinkins’ bill in its decision. Jinkins said she was trying to close “the most outrageous loophole in the world, to fund our kids’ education — and that’s what this is all about.”

Supporters of supermajorities, meanwhile, will no doubt redouble their efforts to embed them into the state Constitution, putting them beyond the reach of the court’s decision (and beyond the reach of lawmakers who have frequently suspended the rules).

“The court has opened the floodgates of taxation,”  GOP Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn said in a statement.
“This is a seminal point in our history. The people have chosen to limit accessibility to their money through the two-thirds tax rule, which they have affirmed five times in statewide ballot measures. In its decision today, the Supreme Court has nullified the two-thirds tax rule. I-1185 passed with 64 percent of the vote. Forty-four of 49 legislative districts voted for I-1185. A majority of the people of every county in the state voted to support I-1185. And now, we know that the two-thirds tax rule can never be implemented without a constitutional amendment. It will take the passage of my bill, Senate Joint Resolution 8205, to allow the people to amend the constitution and require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.”

The idea of a constitutional amendment gained new life when Republicans grabbed key positions in the Senateand it passed out of one committee even before the ruling.

But ironically, it is unlikely to get the two-thirds votes needed to pass the Senate and House and go out to a vote of the people.

Other reaction today:

Tim Eyman, who put forward the initiatives:

In light of today’s ruling, all eyes now move to the Legislature and what they’re going to do.  88 of 98 house members and 44 of 49 senators were elected in districts with voters who overwhelmingly support the 2/3-for-taxes vote requirement.  Governor Inslee received 1.6 million votes but Initiative 1185 got 1.9 million votes.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee:

The supermajority requirement gave a legislative minority the power to squelch ideas even when those ideas had majority support. That is inconsistent with our fundamental form of representative democracy. Majority rule is a foundation of our system of government. Alexander Hamilton understood this and warned that giving ‘the minority a negative upon the majority’ would cause ‘tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.’ James Madison understood this. And the framers of Washington’s constitution had vigorous debate on the issue and were deliberate in embedding the principle of majority rule in our constitution.

Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, which helped bankroll the latest Eyman measure:

 The state Supreme Court’s decision today is a disappointment and sends voters a clear message: your opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to tax decisions in Washington state. That’s a sharp rebuke of the voting public.

Our Economic Future pro-revenue coalition:

The great irony of Eyman’s initiative was the unbalanced requirement that a simple majority was sufficient to create a tax loophole while a supermajority was required to close loopholes or raise revenue. Eyman and his corporate allies used Initiative 1053 to maintain a regressive tax structure where working families pay a 4-6 times higher tax rate than wealthy Washingtonians, and corporations enjoyed tax breaks that were nearly impossible to close.\

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver:

I am shocked and disappointed to see one majority toss out what another majority has approved time after time. There’s only one good way to settle this – for the people of our state to send a clear message not only to the Legislature but also to the Supreme Court – and that’s to put Senate Joint Resolution 8200 on the ballot, so the people can decide whether to finally give constitutional protection to the 2/3rds-vote requirement.

Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater:

Today’s decision from the Washington State Supreme Court may very well be the most significant decision in our state’s history. Today the court made clear that our constitution cannot be amended by the initiative process. This profound ruling means that profiteering initiative writers will not be able to take away protected freedoms and rights guaranteed to the people or the Legislature. Following this 2/3rds case, it is now abundantly clear that we have to tackle our state’s structural revenue and budget failures in a bipartisan way here in Olympia. No more hiding behind corporate sponsored multi-million dollar initiatives- It is time for Democrats and Republicans to come together to take on our tax code to ensure that our state’s essential services, including basic education, are adequately funded.

Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association teachers union:

This latest Supreme Court ruling paves the way for the legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools as mandated by the Washington Constitution and the Court’s earlierMcCleary decision. We urge the House and the Senate to increase funding for our schools so we can begin to reduce overcrowded class sizes and expand all-day kindergarten. Our students’ future depends on it,” said Mary Lindquist, President of the Washington Education Association..

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