When will the state Supreme Court rule on the Legislature needing a two-thirds vote for new taxes? That’s the billion-dollar question.
Another week has gone by without the Supreme Court issuing its ruling on the state’s 20-year-old supermajority for taxes requirement. With each passing week, the chances of a decision not coming during the 2013 legislative session increase.
But will a ruling from the Court really change the options for lawmakers?
Gov. Jay Inslee has repeatedly reaffirmed that he does not support tax increases to balance the budget and would go so far as to veto them (he is open to a transportation tax package, however).
The Senate Majority Coalition has also ruled out tax increases, and Sen. Ed Murray has indicated that any tax increases would likely need to go to the people as a referendum.
When the Court does rule, there are three possible scenarios:
Option 1: The Court upholds its previous precedents and dismisses the case for lack of standing. Under this scenario, the status quo will remain unchanged, and we likely will see this issue on the ballot every two years.
Option 2: The Court upholds the two-thirds requirement for new taxes. As with option one, although the legal question will be resolved, we likely will see this issue on the ballot every two years.
Option 3: The Court strikes down the two-thirds for taxes requirement. While this scenario will take the policy off the books, it will not negate the fact that the 20-year-old requirement has been approved by the voters on five separate occasions, and in the past, when the Court has invalidated a law passed by the people, the Legislature has sought to implement its will (Initiative 695 car tabs and the I-747 property-tax cap).
The legislative response to each of these scenarios is the same: A constitutional amendment.
An amendment would provide the public and businesses with predictability about whether this tax protection will exist from year to year, and whether or not the five-time approval of the voters for this policy was a fluke or actually reflects their consistent and ongoing desire for lawmakers to build a strong public consensus on the need for any proposed tax increase.
Lawmakers have already introduced constitutional amendments in both the House and Senate.
Reps. Larry Haler, Cathy Dahlquist, Dan Kristiansen and Chad Magendanz have introduced HJR 4201: Requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval of tax increase legislation.
Sens. Don Benton, Doug Ericksen, John Braun, Barbara Bailey, Bruce Dammeier, Tim Sheldon, Jerome Delvin, Randi Becker, Mark Schoesler, Jim Honeyford, Kirk Pearson, Curtis King, Pam Roach and Mike Hewitt have introduced SJR 8200: Amending the Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.
Along with passing statewide with 64 percent approval, I-1185 received support in 44 of the state’s 49 legislative districts. That means, should lawmakers merely vote their legislative districts, there would be 90 percent support for this policy.
With voters and lawmakers repeatedly enacting the supermajority vote for taxes requirement during the past 20 years, what could be more representative of the public will than allowing a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment to help end this debate once and for all?
Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform for the Washington Policy Center in Olympia office. He can be reached at 360-705-9068. For more information, visit www.washingtonpolicy.org. Follow him on Twitter, @OlympiaWatch.