Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) urged voters to “look out for [their] pocketbooks” after the state Supreme Court declared a two-thirds vote to raise taxes unconstitutional in a 6-3 ruling released Feb. 28.
The court's determination was made based on a lawsuit filed by the League of Education Voters along with House Democrat members and other stakeholders in July 2011 challenging the constitutionality of Initiative 1035 passed in 2010.
Some critics of the decision deemed it appalling that the court chose to side with constitutional technicalities rather than the vote of the people. The ruling, prepared by Justice Susan Owens, states that the supermajority requirement is in conflict with Article II, section 22 of the state’s constitution, which essentially outlines the prerequisite for simple-majority rule.
“The state’s proposed reading of article II, section 22, would fundamentally alter our system of government, and such alteration is possible only through constitutional amendment,” she wrote. “Washington’s government was founded as a representative democracy based on simple majority rule.”
Justices Charles Johnson and James Johnson wrote dissenting opinions, suggesting that the courts shouldn’t be playing politics.
Republicans expressed disappointment at the ruling and predicted tax increases are inevitable.
Amber Carter of the Association of Washington Business said that the court ruling tosses bipartisanship to the wayside and extinguishes any hope that voters might have certainty in the fiscal responsibility of their legislators.
Gov. Jay Inslee said, “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.”
Several cited the importance of this ruling in the context of education funding and the looming 2018 mandate set out in the Washington Supreme Court case McCleary vs. State of Washington.
The court ruling Thursday “is a victory for my son ... and the kids of Washington who are fighting to succeed in this state and in this world and we have been unable to provide for them the kind of education they deserve,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma).
But some said that using the excuse of children is just a ploy to raise taxes to satisfy special interests.
The drive to make it more difficult for lawmakers to raise taxes isn’t new to the majority of Washingtonians. Since 1993, four initiatives have been passed that required a two-thirds legislative majority vote to raise taxes.
The most recent initiative passed last November, I-1185, was approved by all 39 counties and 44 of 49 legislative districts. Of the 3.9 million registered voters in the state of Washington, 1.9 million favored the initiative.
The measures prior to the 2010 initiative were periodically suspended and modified during the 20-year tax-initiative battle. In response to those who predict that voters would now see tax hikes in light of the Thursday Supreme Court ruling, supporters of the court’s decision claim that throwing out a supermajority won’t change anything.
“Voters want us to be thoughtful,” said Hunter. “And we’re going to be thoughtful.”