For years, Northwest voters and The Herald have embraced a supermajority requirement on state lawmakers hoping to fiddle with revenue. Here, we believed, was a cudgel for innovation and to scrub every budget to its marrow. If you want to fine-tooth taxes — including revisiting exemptions for big businesses that bleed billions from taxpayers — you better corral two-thirds of the chamber or it’s a non-starter.
Just two years ago, the Herald Editorial Board weighed in affirmatively on another supermajority measure, Tim Eyman’s I-1053. “Failing to approve 1-1053 would take away much of the pressure to enact true reforms, telling lawmakers that higher taxes are not only OK, but a desirable part of the budget solution.”
We were wrong. Rather than pressure reforms, Eyman’s supermajority rule has spurred paralysis. Rather than bolster creative solutions to benefit the average taxpayer, the two-thirds’ mandate is now one of the apron strings special interests hide behind to avoid ponying up.
The latest incarnation of Eyman’s supermajority effort, I-1185, is bankrolled by the likes of BP (the company that brought us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) and ConocoPhillips. Each has contributed $100,000, with an additional $400,000 from the Beer Institute. Why so much loot from Big Oil and non-Washington booze interests? With 1185, it takes a simple majority vote in the Legislature to create a tax loophole, but a two-thirds’ supermajority to undo it. Not a bad scheme if you’re a deep-pocketed special interest. It’s a much higher hurdle, however, for Washington families that support tax fairness.
The state Supreme Court is currently adjudicating the constitutionality of the supermajority requirement, and there are compelling reasons to believe it will get struck down. Seattle attorney David Perez has discovered present-at-the-creation evidence that the framers of the state’s Constitution intended the key phrase “unless a majority” to mean a simple majority, no more or no less. If Washingtonians want to impose a have-it-stick supermajority requirement, we’ll need a constitutional amendment.
And what then? As with other states, Washington will get slammed with growing shortfalls and a slow defunding of education. After the McCleary ruling on K-12 funding (Read: Washington needs $1 billion more for education) it’s difficult to imagine lawmakers getting to yes with a supermajority requirement still in place.
The two-thirds’ rule sounded like an effective stick to batter lawmakers into not raising taxes. Instead, it became a case study in unintended consequences, of corporations preserving their loopholes while lawmakers gave state universities the OK to hike tuition. Washington can do better.
The Herald Editorial Board recommends a no vote on Eyman’s latest, I-1185.