Is Washington’s state constitution undemocratic? Some opponents of supermajority vote requirements seem to think so. Voters have enacted or re-affirmed the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases four times: 1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010. They are being asked do so for the fifth time this year with Initiative 1185. Opponents of the supermajority requirement, however, continue to argue that supermajority requirements are undemocratic and lawmakers should be able to make tax decisions based on a simple majority vote.
Though the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases is a statutory requirement, if supermajority restrictions are undemocratic wouldn’t that also be true of constitutional restrictions?
Though the opponents may still make that claim, based on the number of supermajority requirements present in Washington’s Constitution, it is clear they have been placed there to require a high vote threshold for certain actions. These restrictions appear to be policy choices. One could argue that requiring a supermajority vote to change the rules of the game on tax exposure is no more undemocratic than those restrictions currently in the Constitution.
One way to resolve the debate once and for all on the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases is for lawmakers to refer the question to voters as a constitutional amendment. If ratified by voters we’ll know their four-time (pending fifth) approval of the 2/3 requirement was not a fluke and they really want a broad legislative consensus to be reached to raise taxes. Rejection and lawmakers can feel free to disregard the restriction as they have repeatedly done in the past without concern of overriding the will of the people.
In case you think these supermajority vote restrictions are from a previous way of thinking, lawmakers and voters added a new supermajority vote restriction to the Constitution as recently as 2007 with the passage of SJR 8206 (Budget Stabilization Account). That measure requires a 3/5 vote of lawmakers to access funds from the Budget Stabilization Account with few exceptions.
Based on the numerous supermajority vote requirements currently in Washington’s constitution, providing the voters the opportunity to consider a constitutional supermajority requirement to raise tax would not be embracing undemocratic principles. It would simply be following the existing constitutional precedents for requiring higher vote thresholds before the government takes certain actions.
To help gauge potential legislative support for allowing the voters to end this debate once and for all with a constitutional amendment, we sent all candidates for the Legislature (and those Senators not up for election) the following survey question:
“If Initiative 1185 is adopted, would you vote to allow the people of Washington to have the opportunity to vote on a state constitution amendment to require a supermajority vote in the Legislature to raise taxes?”
We received over 100 responses to our survey and will publish the results in the coming weeks.
End the constant back-and-forth over supermajority for tax increases
[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]