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State Supreme Court overturns 2/3 vote to increase taxes

wa state supreme court judgesOLYMPIA — In an historic decision, the state Supreme Court dealt a fatal blow Thursday to the Legislature’s supermajority requirement to raise taxes.

Under the rule struck down by the court as unconstitutional, proposed tax increases in the Legislature needed a vote by two-thirds of members to pass.

The court’s ruling Thursday paves the way for a simple majority of the Legislature to raise taxes.

Voters have approved the 2/3rds rule for tax measures five times, but the court said the high hurdle violates the state constitution and basic democratic principles.

Tim Eyman, the sponsor of the supermajority requirement, said the decision goes against the will of the voters.

“Nothing has changed as far as the level of public support for this measure,” Eyman said Thursday in front of the state Capitol. “Six justices obviously don’t like it, but 1.9 million people do.”

The initiative guru’s years of work was struck down in just one written opinion, but Eyman on Thursday lacked the emotion and energy that typically characterizes his public statements.

“At the end of the day, I’m trying to focus as much as I can on the future,” he said.

His efforts will now turn to making sure lawmakers uphold the spirit of what the people have approved.  “We call on the Legislature to represent the people on this.”

Opponents of the supermajority requirement applauded the high court’s ruling.

“The fact that it’s approved by voters doesn’t make it constitutional,” said state Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, one of the plaintiffs in the challenge to the law. “The practical effect of the 2/3rds rule is that it gives a minority the ability to trump the majority of the elected representatives of the people.”

Frockt rejects the notion that the end of the supermajority requirement will be the beginning of heavy tax increases.

“The people want us to make sure we’re working within our means and staying within our means,” he said. “I don’t think this is going to mean that we are going to be raising taxes willy-nilly.”

But some Republican lawmakers worry that the court ruling will indeed usher in higher taxes.

“Bad day for Washington, bad day for the people,” said state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. “Look out for your pocketbooks, it’s going to come at you again.”

Roach, a big supporter of the supermajority requirement, argues there is only one option now that the court has thrown out the voter-approved initiative.

“There’s really only one thing that will fix it,” Roach said, “and that’s a constitutional amendment.”

The Supreme Court made clear in its ruling that a constitutional amendment is the one way to enshrine the 2/3rds rule in law.  However, doing that would itself take 2/3rds of the Legislature and a majority of the voters. Right now in Olympia, that support don’t exist.

“The 2/3rds rule is not a good way to govern the state of Washington,” said Frockt. “We are elected representatives. We listen to people, and if we don’t do what they want us to do, we get voted out.”

Reacting the court’s ruling, Gov. Jay Inslee said:  “The state Supreme Court did the right thing today in ruling that a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation would alter our system of government. 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.”

The case was filed by a group that included the League of Education Voters, the Washington Education Association and various state legislators and citizens.

12 comments

  • Kurt

    This is so typical. Isn't governance in this country supposed to be with the consent of the governed?
    Since citizens have clearly expressed the desire for there to be a 2/3 majority requirement, not once, but 4 times now, should not government be bound by that? At least should not the legislators listen??
    It is very telling that it is democrats who refuse to listen to the voice of the people, and not coincidentally, also refuse to live within a budget, or put taxpayers needs first before that of big government.
    I hope every voter pays attention to this.

  • guest

    I don't get it. The voters passed this twice but the court knocks it down. Shouldn't the voters be making the laws they live under? And thank you all who voted for this tax raising moron inslee.

  • ken

    exactly what is unconstitutional about it ?? is it the state constitution ?? for it to have become law, didn't the majority of the people want it?? they also could bring a tax vote to the people, so they had options. THANK YOU COURT JESTERS FOR YOUR GREAT WISDOM…Dumb Ass!

  • Supertrooper

    We are so hosed. Gas tax increase will now be $.25 and not $.10 per gallon. Vehicle license fees will be back up to $800 for a Yugo. We will be California in 5-years.

  • felcher Uno

    Cal-I-fron-ya here we come.
    Right back where we started from………before Tim Eyeman.
    We need Tim Eyeman for Governor or Attorney General,.
    We are just life California. The Liberals are running the Asylum and we are doomed in this state.

  • Bootlegger59

    Just another example of government getting what it wants, and the people be damned! What good does it do to vote for anything, the government will do exactly what it chooses to do if they want to do it bad enough. The voters mean nothing anymore, as we just go through the motions of 'voting', either for or against. Government is slowly taking over completely, and we must go along with whatever THEY decide, I mean, we the people, are now completely governed by the few who make our choices for us. Sounds Communistic, does it not!

  • Any

    Here we go again. Governed by the people is a crock. How can something be unconstitutional when it was voted in by the people? The billions in revenue they are going to receive from the passed marijuana bill isn’t enough? Again, how can it be unconstitutional and to whom is it unconstitutional ? Reminiscent of Dixie and her “Forget what the people say and bring us your nuclear waste.” Yeah and now we have that same radioactive waste leaking into our soil and water. Good going Supreme Court and your screw the people attitude. An attitude that we all have come to expect.

    • GarryK

      After 2 decades why didn't the legislature listen to the people and amend the constitution?!

      Why didn't 'initiative' Eyman know this when he kept pushing to get it on the ballot?!

  • Guest

    And it was thanks to all you tree-hugging liberals who keep voting the Democrats into office. Thanks. Might as well have the state of Washington declare bankruptcy now.

  • Chuck

    Can,t wait to get out of this state and take my hard earned money with me! The dumb F%#*s that run this state do not care about the people that work for a living.

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