Measure limiting ability to raise taxes kept on ballot

SEATTLE — A King County judge won’t block an initiative that would limit the Legislature’s ability to raise taxes from appearing on the November ballot.

Initiative 1366 would decrease the 6.5-cent state sales tax to 5.5 percent unless the Legislature puts a constitutional amendment before voters that would reinstate a two-thirds legislative majority to raise taxes.

The state Office of Financial Management estimated that I-1366 would reduce revenue to the state budget by $8 billion through the middle of 2021, if its tax-cut element becomes law.

A lawsuit was filed by opponents who said the measure would essentially change the state constitution and was beyond the scope of Washington’s initiative law.

In a ruling Friday after oral arguments, Judge Dean Lum said I-1366 appears to exceed the scope of the initiative process, but it’s unclear whether free speech protections in the state and federal constitutions would preclude a pre-election challenge of the measure.

Lum said that was a determination that must be made by the state Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who has taken no position on the measure, said voters should be allowed to decide its fate then courts could weigh in if it passes.

Previous voter-approved initiatives required a supermajority vote, but the state Supreme Court struck that requirement down in 2013, saying it was unconstitutional.

In a statement, initiative sponsor Tim Eyman said he expected further court challenges to I-1366. He said he was hopeful the state Supreme Court would either refuse to hear the case or reject “such antidemocratic lawsuits.”

“We are very confident the voters will get to vote on I-1366,” Eyman said. “Because in our state’s 100-year history, the courts have never — not once — prevented the people from voting on a statewide initiative that turned in the required signatures and was certified for the vote by the secretary of state.”

The coalition of lawmakers, officials and others who support the lawsuit said they expected to prevail eventually.

“If the high court doesn’t choose to remove this attempt to undercut democracy from the ballot before the election, we are confident it would overturn it after the November election,” said a statement distributed by the Washington State Budget &Policy Center.

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