Two-thirds tax vote fails in state Senate

OLYMPIA — A measure that could have let voters decide whether the state Constitution should be amended to require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes failed in the Senate on Wednesday.

It needed a two-thirds majority to pass out of the Senate but failed on a 25-21 vote. Lawmakers were exploring the Constitutional amendment process after the state Supreme Court found a voter-approved version of the two-thirds rule to be unconstitutional last year. Currently, taxes can be raised through a simple-majority vote.

Sen. Don Benton, one of the sponsors of Senate Joint Resolution 8213, said voters should decide whether the tax rule belongs in the state Constitution.

“Our only recourse is to put it in the Constitution,” the Republican from Vancouver said. “This is about whether or not you trust the citizens of this state; do you respect the rights of the citizens to amend their constitution?”

But Democratic Sen. Karen Keiser of Kent called the proposal “a bit of a comedy,” saying while some taxes haven’t increased in years, dozens of tax exemptions have been passed by lawmakers.

“We’re good at that,” she said. “In this proposal, we will lock in every one of them; they’ll be there forever,” she said, because repealing them also would take a two-thirds majority vote.

The proposal, sponsored by most Republicans in the Senate, was opposed by many Democrats.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who brought the issue before voters, said in January that the public has a right to consider the amendment after approving the tax rule multiple times at the ballot.

Eyman has been putting pressure on lawmakers and has proposed a new ballot measure this year that would cut billions of dollars from the state budget unless the Legislature moves forward with the constitutional amendment. Each year, that measure would cost the state about $1 billion in revenue.

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