Lawmakers praise court ruling on two-thirds requirement for tax increases

Democratic state Reps. Ruth Kagi, Cindy Ryu and Derek Stanford all say that they are happy that the state Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of the voter-approved requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.

Stanford said after the Thursday ruling, “I am glad that the court has ruled on the constitutionality of this issue, and as always, I believe we must uphold and protect our constitution. Now we must continue our work to grow our economy, protect our kids and seniors, and make responsible investments in K-12 and higher education.”

Stanford and Ryu were among a group of first-year legislators in 2011 who sponsored a bill to eliminate a tax break for out-of-state banks, with the revenue designated for primary education. The bill got a majority vote in the House of Representatives but fell short of the required two-thirds vote. The legislators then joined the suit by the League of Education Voters that led to last week’s ruling.

Ryu said Thursday that the court’s ruling on the two-thirds requirement clarifies the Legislature’s role, reduces the influence of special interests and allows the Legislature to eliminate some outmoded tax loopholes.

The court overturned the voter-approved requirement that tax increases get two-thirds approval of both houses of the Legislature or approval in a statewide vote.

The court said that the two-thirds rule violated a state constitutional provision that passing a law requires “a majority of the members elected to each house.”

The court majority said that neither the Legislature nor the people could change the majority requirement without a constitutional amendment.

Ryu said that the decision eliminates years of uncertainty over whether the rule was consistent with the constitution. The court has declined other chances to rule on the two-thirds requirement.

A King County Superior Court judge ruled in May 2012 that the supermajority requirement for raising taxes is unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court heard an appeal of the case in September of 2012.

“The constitutional legality of the supermajority has gone unresolved for many years,” Ryu said. “I am pleased the court has finally settled the issue. This decision clarifies my responsibility as a legislator, as I took an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States and the State of Washington.”

She said that the court’s invalidation of the two-thirds rule reduced the role of special interests because, under the two-thirds rule, 17 senators could stop a tax measure favored by the other 32 senators and all 98 representatives.

“A supermajority requirement rigs the system to give more power to special interests than to middle-class families,” she said. “This wasn’t about raising taxes; it was about democracy, and not rigging the system so as few as 17 senators or 33 representatives out of 147 of us elected to the state Legislature would be able to control the state budget.”

Kagi said that the decision reminded her of an earlier decision overturning a voter-approved initiative.

“Many years ago, when I was vice president of the League of Women Voters of Washington, I worked to defeat the ballot initiative to establish term limits for legislators. The terms of state elected officials are spelled out in our state’s constitution, yet the initiative sought to limit the number of terms a legislator could serve. Although the initiative passed after several attempts, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

“The two-thirds vote requirement faced the same challenge, and the Supreme Court once again ruled that our constitution cannot be changed through initiative. In their words: The Supermajority Requirement unconstitutionally amends the constitution by imposing a two-thirds vote requirement for tax legislation. More importantly, the supermajority requirement substantially alters our system of government, thus enabling the tyranny of the minority.”

Kagi agreed with Stanford and Ryu that the ruling resolves an issue that has been unclear for many years, and clarifies the responsibility of the legislature.

Stanford represents the 1st Legislative District, including most of Mountlake Terrace, all of Brier and Bothell, north Kirkland, unincorporated areas of King County between Bothell and Kirkland, and unincorporated areas of Snohomish County north and east of Bothell.

Kagi and Ryu represent the 32nd District, including Lynnwood, part of Mountlake Terrace, south Edmonds, Woodway and nearby unincorporated areas of southwest Snohomish County, Shoreline and part of northwest Seattle.

Evan Smith can be reached at schsmith@frontier.com

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