Tag: 2/3 vote to raise taxes

JusticeBlind

State Argues 18 Year Old 2/3 Vote Requirement for Taxes is Constitutional

Acting on behalf of the state the Attorney General’s Office has once again argued the 1993 voter-approved requirement for a 2/3 vote to raise taxes is constitutional (policy has been subsequently re-approved by the voters and legislature on multiple occasions).

Here are some pull quotes from the state’s motion for summary judgment in the most recent legal challenge:

“Plaintiff non-profit corporations assert that they have an interest in successfully lobbying the legislature to enact laws that they and their members would support, and that would advance their public policy preferences. Successfully lobbying the legislature is not a right or legally protected interest, and the corporate Plaintiffs do not (and could not) assert that RCW 43.135.034(1) prevents them from lobbying the legislature to promote their interests . . .

The twelve Plaintiff legislators similarly fail to demonstrate a genuine and substantial right or legally protected interest necessary for a cause of action challenging the two-thirds supermajority provision of RCW 43.135.034(1). Plaintiff legislators assert a ‘constitutional right as elected officials to advance bills through the legislative process.’ As discussed immediately below, the right asserted by Plaintiff legislators actually amounts to an alleged right to advance and pass bills that they and their fellow legislators have determined not to advance or pass. Plaintiff legislators have no such right or legal interest . . .

The supermajority vote provision of RCW 43.135.034(1) did not prevent the house from passing SHB 2078. What prevented the house from passing SHB 2078 was the decision of the members of the house – including each of the twelve individual Plaintiff legislators in this case – not to appeal the speaker’s parliamentary ruling and, on a simple majority vote, overrule it . . .

As to Plaintiff individual legislators, the two-thirds supermajority vote provision of RCW 43.135.034(1) may make it politically difficult to raise taxes, but freedom from political difficulty is not a right or legally protected interest of Plaintiff legislators . . .

Article II, section 22, by its plain language, establishes a constitutional minimum of a simple majority vote for bill passage. It does not, either expressly or by fair inference, prohibit statutes that require greater than a simple majority vote for passage. (And, of course, any bill receiving a supermajority vote has received a simple majority.) Absent such a limitation, the legislature, or the people, are free to express their legislative policy judgment that certain types of bills warrant greater than simple majority consensus for passage. RCW 43.135.034(1) expresses such a policy judgment—that a two-thirds majority vote of each house should be required for passage of bills raising taxes.”

Here is the motion for summary judgment of those challenging the 18 year old 2/3 vote requirement.

A hearing has been scheduled for February 17 for the judge to consider these proposals.

Regardless of what the judge rules, lawmakers should end this debate once and for all by providing Washingtonians the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment reaffirming the policy during the 2012 general election. This would provide the public and businesses with predictability about whether this tax protection will exist from year to year and clarify whether or not the repeated 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.

Here is the track record for the 2/3 vote requirement or voter approval for taxes policy at the ballot:

  • 2010: I-1053 – Required 2/3 vote or voter approval for tax increases (64% yes)
  • 2007: I-960 – Required 2/3 vote or voter approval for tax increases (51% yes)
  • 1999: I-695 – Required voter approval of all tax increases (56% yes)
  • 1998: R-49 – Reaffirmed provisions of 1993 I-601 (57% yes)
  • 1993: I-601 – Required 2/3 vote for tax increases (51% yes)

Despite numerous legislative amendments to the section of law (Revised Code of Washington 43.135) containing the two-thirds vote requirement, the legislature has never fully repealed the voter-passed mandate that tax increases require a two-thirds vote.

In fact, in 2006 the legislature shortened its own 2005 suspension and voted explicitly to reinstate the two-thirds vote requirement so its suspension ended a year sooner than it would have otherwise (SB 6896). This bill was supported only by Democrats (the bill primarily dealt with increasing the spending limit but an amendment was adopted reinstating the 2/3 vote requirement a year early).

HJR 4213 was introduced last year to provide the voters the opportunity to put the 2/3 vote requirement into the Constitution but it was not acted on. The proposal has been reintroduced for consideration in the 2012 Session.

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[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: Dan4th]

MarieAntoinetteCupcakes

Gregoire Files Legal Brief in 2/3 Vote for Taxes Lawsuit

Last year several House Democrats joined the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the League of Education Voters to file a lawsuit to overturn the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases.

Today Governor Gregoire filed a legal brief urging the Court to rule on this issue. From her brief (in-part)

“Governor Christine Gregoire asks this Court to decide the constitutionality of the supermajority requirement of Initiative 1053. The Governor’s aim is not to advocate one view of constitutional interpretation or another–the plaintiffs and the Attorney General have sharpened the issues and legal arguments and present this Court with a sound basis to decide this matter. Instead, the Governor presents her view that this is the right time, the right court and the right procedural posture for the Court to decide this important constitutional issue. The Governor believes the opinion of the Court will be beneficial to the public and to the proper execution of her duties, which include a constitutional and statutory role in the proposal and enactment of laws that raise state revenue. These duties are impacted by the ongoing uncertainty about the constitutionality of the two-thirds vote requirement.”

According to the Court, next Wednesday (January 18) the “Court will make a ruling off the record regarding the page limits and briefing schedule for the summary judgment.”

Rather than leave the decision in the Court’s hands, the Governor instead should encourage lawmakers to end this debate once and for all by providing Washingtonians the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment reaffirming the policy during the 2012 general election. This would provide the public and businesses with predictability about whether this tax protection will exist from year to year and clarify whether or not the repeated 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.

Here is the track record for the 2/3 vote requirement or voter approval for taxes policy at the ballot:

  • 2010: I-1053 – Required 2/3 vote or voter approval for tax increases (64% yes)
  • 2007: I-960 – Required 2/3 vote or voter approval for tax increases (51% yes)
  • 1999: I-695 – Required voter approval of all tax increases (56% yes)
  • 1998: R-49 – Reaffirmed provisions of 1993 I-601 (57% yes)
  • 1993: I-601 – Required 2/3 vote for tax increases (51% yes)

Ironically, using only a simple majority vote, the legislature has suspended the two-thirds vote threshold three times. This occurred most recently during the 2010 Legislative Session, when lawmakers passed SB 6130. The two previous times the legislature suspended the two-thirds requirement were in 2002 (SB 6819) and 2005 (SB 6078).

Despite numerous legislative amendments to the section of law (Revised Code of Washington 43.135) containing the two-thirds vote requirement, the legislature has never fully repealed the voter-passed mandate that tax increases require a two-thirds vote.

In fact, in 2006 the legislature shortened its own 2005 suspension and voted explicitly to reinstate the two-thirds vote requirement so its suspension ended a year sooner than it would have otherwise (SB 6896). This bill was supported only by Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (the bill primarily dealt with increasing the spending limit but an amendment was adopted reinstating the 2/3 vote requirement a year early).

Despite her support for reinstating the 2/3 vote requirement a year early in 2006, here is a recent TVW interview where Senator Brown discusses why she believes the Court should overturn the voter-approved and legislative reaffirmed 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases:

(Click here for video)

Here is what the Attorney General’s Office said (in-part) back in 2008 about the constitutionality of the 2/3 vote requirement when it was last challenged in court (page 37 – legal citations omitted):

“Petitioner attempts to meet her ‘responsibility of proving that [RCW 43.135.035(1)] is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt’ on the basis of a constitutional provision that, by its own terms, does not prohibit the statute that she challenges. Article 2, Section 22 provides, ‘[n]o bill shall become a law unless . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.’ Article 2, Section 22 establishes a constitutional minimum number of votes for a bill to become law. It only describes the circumstances under which a bill does not pass. In other words, Article 2, Section 22 does not prohibit statutes by which the legislature (or the people) express their legislative policy judgment that certain types of bills warrant greater than simple majority consensus for passage. RCW 43.135.035(1) expresses such a legislative policy judgment—that a two-thirds majority vote of each house should be required for passage of bills raising taxes. The statute hardly conflicts with the constitutional floor set by Article 2, Section 22, as any bill receiving its supermajority support has met the requirement of Article 2, Section 22 . . .

Both the framers of the constitution and subsequent legislatures and voters have recognized that certain specified actions should command the support of more than a simple majority. Petitioners, to the contrary, urge that the same constitutional convention that embraced supermajorities for some purposes intended to prohibit statutes requiring supermajorities for any other purposes. The Constitution contains no language supporting this notion, however. The framers may not reasonably be presumed to have implied the prohibition of a political mechanism that they themselves adopted through language that does not say so. Given the plenary legislative authority of the people and the legislature, and the absence of a clear constitutional prohibition, the Court should not conclude otherwise.”

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[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: kristiapaz]

EmergencyBrakeSign

Expected Tax Referendum Should Share Ballot With Constitutional Amendment for 2/3 Vote Requirement

There is universal expectation that after next Thursday’s state revenue forecast lawmakers will need to make substantial reductions to the 2011-13 budget adopted earlier this year. The Speaker of the House and the Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee have already stated their desire to consider tax increases next year.

According to Publicola:

“On KUOW’s ‘The Conversation’ yesterday, state House speaker Frank Chopp (D-43, Seattle) indicated that he might be open to suspending Tim Eyman’s voter-approved ‘two-thirds’ rule, I-1053, which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes. The legislature can suspend any initiative two years after it passes, and in 2010, they did just that, suspending Eyman’s earlier I-960 rule to raise $771 million in revenue. Later that year, voters passed I-1053, reinstating the two-thirds rule. Next year is the first opportunity for the legislature to overturn that initiative.

Although he did not explicitly say he would support suspending I-1053, Chopp responded to host Ross Reynolds’ question about the two-thirds requirement by referring to the ‘extraordinary economic times.'”

The Seattle Times adds:

“[Sen.] Murray also noted that while he plans to work with Republicans to craft a budget as was done in the past session, he told Zarelli he wants to send voters a tax package that could bring in additional money to support state programs.

[Sen.] Zarelli said he would not support sending voters a tax package.”

If lawmakers are going to send voters a proposed tax referendum they should also put a constitutional amendment enforcing the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases on the ballot (especially since some are already talking about suspending it again and others are suing to have it overturned). The legislative vote for both measures could be clearly framed as not an endorsement of the policies but instead an opportunity for the citizens to decide.

Though not identical, this is similar to what lawmakers said they were doing in 2005 when they placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot to reduce the vote threshold needed for voter approved school levies. At the time several lawmakers said they didn’t necessarily support the policy but the voters should have the opportunity to be heard. This would provide voters the opportunity to weigh in on both proposals while finally putting to rest once and for all the debate about the 2/3 vote requirement.

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[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: SpecialKRB]

PingPong

State Responds to WEA/House Democrats Suit to Overturn 2/3 Vote Requirement for Tax Hikes

Last month several House Democrats joined the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the League of Education Voters to file a lawsuit to overturn the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases.

On Monday the state responded. From the state’s brief (in-part):

“Defendants admit that plaintiffs’ Complaint challenges the constitutionality of RCW 43.135.034, and that citations in the Complaint are to RCW 43.135.034, currently in effect. Defendants deny that RCW 43.135.034 is unconstitutional. Defendants admit that plaintiffs purport to challenge the provisions of a statute not currently in effect, RCW 43.135.035, if and when it takes effect. Defendants deny that such a claim properly is before the Court, and deny that RCW 43.135.035 is unconstitutional.

Defendants deny that RCW 43.135.034 is unconstitutional facially or as applied . . .

By way of further answer and affirmative defense, Defendants allege as follows:

1. This action is not justiciable;

2 This action is not ripe;

3. Plaintiffs lack standing;

4. This action is barred by the separation of powers doctrine;

5. This action is barred by the political question doctrine;

6. The Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Defendants respectfully requests relief as follows:

1. That the Complaint be dismissed, and that no relief be granted to plaintiffs;

2. For such other and further relief as this Court deems just and appropriate.”

Should the King County Superior Court decide to move forward with the case and not grant the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, it is likely we’ll see the same arguments made to the 2008 challenge to the law.

Here is what the Attorney General’s Office said (in-part) back in 2008 about the constitutionality of the 2/3 vote requirement when it was last challenged in court (page 37 – legal citations omitted):

“Petitioner attempts to meet her ‘responsibility of proving that [RCW 43.135.035(1)] is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt’ on the basis of a constitutional provision that, by its own terms, does not prohibit the statute that she challenges. Article 2, Section 22 provides, ‘[n]o bill shall become a law unless . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.’ Article 2, Section 22 establishes a constitutional minimum number of votes for a bill to become law. It only describes the circumstances under which a bill does not pass. In other words, Article 2, Section 22 does not prohibit statutes by which the legislature (or the people) express their legislative policy judgment that certain types of bills warrant greater than simple majority consensus for passage. RCW 43.135.035(1) expresses such a legislative policy judgment—that a two-thirds majority vote of each house should be required for passage of bills raising taxes. The statute hardly conflicts with the constitutional floor set by Article 2, Section 22, as any bill receiving its supermajority support has met the requirement of Article 2, Section 22 . . .

Both the framers of the constitution and subsequent legislatures and voters have recognized that certain specified actions should command the support of more than a simple majority. Petitioners, to the contrary, urge that the same constitutional convention that embraced supermajorities for some purposes intended to prohibit statutes requiring supermajorities for any other purposes. The Constitution contains no language supporting this notion, however. The framers may not reasonably be presumed to have implied the prohibition of a political mechanism that they themselves adopted through language that does not say so. Given the plenary legislative authority of the people and the legislature, and the absence of a clear constitutional prohibition, the Court should not conclude otherwise.”

Regardless of what the Court decides to do, the only sure way to end this debate once and for all is for Washingtonians to have the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment. This would provide the public and businesses with predictability about whether this tax protection will exist from year to year and whether or not the four-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.

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[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: flickr]

Boris_Badenov_and_Natasha_Fatale

WEA and House Dems Sue Voters to End 2/3 Vote Requirement for Tax Hikes

In the waning hours of the “budget focused” special session Democrats in the House and Senate both attempted to cue up votes on a tax bill not assumed in the budget that no one expected to pass. The strategy was to try to gain legal standing to sue the voters to overturn the 18 year old 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases.

Today this legislative charade has come to fruition as several House Democrats have joined the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the League of Education Voters to file a lawsuit to overturn the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases.

Here is a copy of today’s legal filing.

The lawsuit highlights the failure of the Legislature to fund Initiative 728 and 732 as proof of harm as to why taxes should be easier to raise.

Since funding was not identified for I-728/732 (other than surplus funds) when originally adopted and the measures were subsequently suspended during tough budget times, voters were asked in 2004 to approve I-884 and in 2010 to approve I-1098 to pay in-part for the policies of I-728 and I-732. Both measures were overwhelming rejected statewide.

Reading the tea leaves of I-728, 732, I-884 and I-1098, it appears the voters supported the policies of I-728 and I-732 when they were “free” and wouldn’t hurt the budget or require tax increases but were against them when asked to raise taxes to pay for them.

Here are additional details on what the voters were promised concerning tax increases when voting on I-728 and I-732.

As for the 4-time approval of the 2/3 vote requirement, however, voters have consistently said yes to imposing this restriction on lawmakers.

Voters first enacted the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases in 1993 with I-601, reaffirmed it 1998 with Referendum 49, reenacted it in 2007 with I-960, and again last year with 64% approving I-1053.

The Legislature has also enacted the 2/3 vote restriction including a 2006 bill that was signed by Governor Gregoire. That proposal (SB 6896) was primarily focused at redefining the spending limit adopted in 1993 to facilitate the large increase in spending that help set the stage for our current budget challenges. To throw voters a bone when rewriting the spending limit, Democrats also ended their 2005 suspension of the 2/3 vote requirement a year early. According to the bill report for SB 6896:

“The authority of the Legislature to increase state revenues without a two-thirds vote is terminated on June 30, 2006.”

Despite numerous legislative amendments to the law, the Legislature has never fully repealed the mandate from voters that tax increases require a two-thirds vote and in the case of SB 6896 in 2006, Democrats voted to reinstate the restriction a year early.

Not able or willing to fully eliminate the 2/3 restriction legislatively, opponents have tried over the last 18 years to get the Court to throw out the requirement.

Here is what the Attorney General’s Office said (in-part) back in 2008 about the constitutionality of the 2/3 vote requirement when it was last challenged in court (page 37 – legal citations omitted):

“Petitioner attempts to meet her ‘responsibility of proving that [RCW 43.135.035(1)] is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt’ on the basis of a constitutional provision that, by its own terms, does not prohibit the statute that she challenges. Article 2, Section 22 provides, ‘[n]o bill shall become a law unless . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.’ Article 2, Section 22 establishes a constitutional minimum number of votes for a bill to become law. It only describes the circumstances under which a bill does not pass. In other words, Article 2, Section 22 does not prohibit statutes by which the legislature (or the people) express their legislative policy judgment that certain types of bills warrant greater than simple majority consensus for passage. RCW 43.135.035(1) expresses such a legislative policy judgment—that a two-thirds majority vote of each house should be required for passage of bills raising taxes. The statute hardly conflicts with the constitutional floor set by Article 2, Section 22, as any bill receiving its supermajority support has met the requirement of Article 2, Section 22 . . .

Both the framers of the constitution and subsequent legislatures and voters have recognized that certain specified actions should command the support of more than a simple majority. Petitioners, to the contrary, urge that the same constitutional convention that embraced supermajorities for some purposes intended to prohibit statutes requiring supermajorities for any other purposes. The Constitution contains no language supporting this notion, however. The framers may not reasonably be presumed to have implied the prohibition of a political mechanism that they themselves adopted through language that does not say so. Given the plenary legislative authority of the people and the legislature, and the absence of a clear constitutional prohibition, the Court should not conclude otherwise.”

Seeing how the Court has had 18 years (since I-601 in 1993) and multiple opportunities to rule on 2/3 but has refused to do so there is no guarantee the latest ploy to gain legal standing will work.

As evident by the latest legal challenge, however, this issue needs to finally be put to rest. The only sure way to end this debate once and for all is for voters to have the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers opposed to this policy could simply use their talking points from 2005 when they placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot to reduce the vote threshold needed for voter approved school levies. At the time several lawmakers said they didn’t necessarily support the policy but the voters should have the opportunity to weigh in. Seeing how the voters have already weighed in four times for the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases it would be better to let them resolve the debate instead of hoping for a judicial hailmary.

Of the sixteen states with supermajority tax restrictions, only Washington’s is statutory.

It is time to put all the cards on the table and let the voters decide with a constitutional amendment in a winner take all pot – not try to deal from the bottom of the deck with the ever elusive judicial card.

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[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog]

MonopolyIncomeTax

Inslee Takes Wait and See on Income Tax, Does Not Support 2/3 Vote Requirement

Last night Congressman Jay Inslee did an interview with TVW’s Austin Jenkins discussing his positions as a candidate for Governor. Among the policies discussed were Inslee’s position on tax increases and whether the voter-approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases is constitutional.

Here is the video of that interview queued up to the conversation on those issues:

Cliff notes version: No income tax, currently not that time for tax increases though not ruling out tax increases in the future, some tax preferences should be closed now, however, and not sure about constitutionality of 2/3 requirement but not a supporter of the policy.

Here are McKenna’s answers to those same questions.

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[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: flickr]

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