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Lawsuit aims at I-1053

On Monday, the League of Education Voters (LEV), along with the Washington Education Association (the state teachers union), lawmakers, parents and taxpayers, filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of Initiative 1053. The initiative imposes a supermajority vote in the state Legislature to raise revenues or close tax loopholes. The group is asking the court to rule that the supermajority requirement is unconstitutional.

LEV is challenging the constitutionality of I-1053 because “it hamstrings the ability of our elected officials to uphold their paramount duty to invest in the quality public schools our children need to succeed in life.”

WEA president Mary Lindquist and former Mercer Island union leader said, “This lawsuit reinforces the priority that must be given to public education in the state of Washington. Students, educators, parents and a group of courageous dedicated legislators are asking for Tim Eyman’s unconstitutional statute to be overturned by the Supreme Court so our public schools and communities can be stronger, and our students ready for 21st century challenges.”

Even to close outdated tax loopholes, I-1053 requires a two-thirds vote. But the constitution sets the rules for the Legislature, and it requires a simple majority to raise taxes or close loopholes. As long as I-1053 goes unchallenged, a minority of legislators can block the will of the majority.

According to the statements from the LEV, “Substitute HB 2078 is a good example of the harm I-1053 is causing our schools. LEV supported SHB 2078 during the 2011 special legislative session. This bill would have eliminated a tax break for large out-of-state banks in order to fund K-3 class-size reductions approved by voters in Initiative 728. It failed to pass the House even though it received a constitutional majority of 52 out of 98 votes.”

The release continues: “With I-1053 in place, our school children and college students and their frustrated parents are the ones who are paying the price. Since they can’t do much about Tim Eyman and his endless initiatives, LEV decided to file this lawsuit along with the WEA, former Supreme Court Justice Robert Utter, numerous legislators and taxpayers.”

A provision of the statute in question requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature to raise revenue or modify tax preferences. The plaintiffs believe that the state constitution is clear that such measures require only a majority vote of the Legislature.  The state’s constitution cannot be amended by statute, regardless of how that statute came into existence.

“Our state constitution is the ultimate expression of the will of the people. Making sure our laws — whether passed by the legislature or by citizens through the initiative process — abide by the constitution is critical to protecting democracy and the rule of law,” said state representative Jamie Pedersen, chair of the House Judiciary committee. “The question of whether a super-majority requirement to approve legislation is constitutional has gone unanswered for many years. It’s time to get a decision, once and for all.”

For more, go to seattlelwv.org.

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