Morning Fizz: Supreme Court Strikes Down Two-Thirds Rule
Caffeinated News & Gossip: 6-3 ruling strikes down Eyman's two-thirds law.
1. In a 6-3 decision this morning, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the voter-approved rule requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass taxes saying it violates the state constitution's "plain language" that "prohibits either the people or the legislature from passing legislation requiring more than a simple majority for the passage of tax legislation."
The challenge to the two-thirds rule began when a crew of Democratic state house reps tried to repeal a tax break for big banks at the end of the 2011 legislative session. The effort, an attempt to fund K-12 education, failed thanks to the two-thirds requirement (repealing tax breaks are considered tax increases in Olympia).
While they lost the vote, they had an ulterior motive. The move established the co-sponsors of the bill—Democratic Reps. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma) and Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle) (along with then rep now Sen. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle)) who all happened to be attorneys—as plaintiffs in a constitutional challenge to I-1053, at the time the most recent two-thirds measure passed by the voters. (Voters have since passed Tim Eyman's I-1185.)
Nearly a year later, in March 2012, joined by education advocates—both the teachers' union and their rivals from the ed reform camp—they took the case to King County Superior Court where they argued that Article 2, Section 22 of the state constitution says it takes a majority to pass a law—not a super majority. Noting other specific exceptions spelled out in the constitution such as needing three-fifths to pass a bond, two-thirds to override a veto, or two-thirds to pass a constitutional amendment, their contention was that the simple majority rule in the constitution sets a ceiling not a floor.
The Attorney General's Office defended the two-thirds rule and took an ironic position for conservatives—arguing that the constitution simply set a floor not a ceiling and could be interpreted more broadly.
The Attorney General's Office defended the rule and took an ironic position for conservatives—arguing that the constitution simply set a floor not a ceiling and could be interpreted more broadly. (Opponents countered that the AG's argument was a bit silly because by their logic there could be a new rule saying the legislature could only raise taxes by a unanimous vote).
Mostly, though, the day's arguments focused on whether or not the Democrats and the education advocates even had standing.
However, two months later, in May 2012, King County Superior Court stayed the rule (meaning they said the two-thirds rule was unconstitutional) and it was off to the Supreme Court. The judges heard the arguments in September, where, in a good sign for the opponents of the rule, the merits of the case—as opposed to the arguments over standing—ended up taking center stage.
Never mind "Isn't it Weird That."
Isn't it Delicious That the Republicans are now pressed to round up a two-thirds vote themselves. The court said in its ruling today: "Should the people and the legislature still wish to require a supermajority for tax legislation, they must do so through a constitutional amendment..."
It takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment.
Here's the Court's decision.
Footnote: The Court punted on the referendum requirement—that is, the accompanying rule that the voters automatically get the right to approve or disapprove tax increases that bump the state's spending limit. The court offered no opinion on that rule. However, that's not likely to have a practical effect: A) The voters still have the right to collect signatures and force a referendum on any law and B) It's not likely the legislature will pass new taxes that exceed the legislature's spending limit.
2. State senate transportation committee co-chair Curtis King (R-14, Yakima) dressed down city council member Sally Clark yesterday, after Clark testified that she supported legislation creating new local revenue options to pay for transit and local roads, saying the bill would "force people out of their cars."
Clark had testified that the city was at the point where their only option for improving freight mobility and reducing traffic congestion was "luring people out of their cars" by making transit faster and more reliable than driving alone. King's response: "I think there's a world of difference between luring people out of their cars and passing fees that add up to hundreds of dollars every year. That's forcing people out of their cars."
"Not much hope in that room," Clark said sardonically after the hearing.
3. Here's a man bites dog story: A crew of working class lefty unions came out in support of Seattle Port Commissioner Tom Albro's idea to increase commissioners' salaries.
It's not as much of a curve ball as it appears, though. The Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Service Employees International Union were making a point.
Their press release begins:
"Unions representing workers at the Port of Seattle believe everyone who works at our port deserves a living wage. For that reason, we support increasing the pay of Port Commissioners to the $42,000/year level proposed by Commissioner Albro—but only when all workers at our airport and seaport are paid living wages as well."
And there's more. This from Habiba Ali, a wheelchair attendant at Sea-Tac Airport, who starts out by saying he was "ecstatic" about the pay increase. “Then I found out they were talking about giving themselves a raise, not me and the thousands of poverty-wage workers at the Port. This is outrageous. We’re the ones who do the work. They need to take care of us before they fatten their own paychecks.”