The reactions are pouring in to this morning's big news that the State Supreme Court ruled I-1053, the voter-approved measure requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass taxes, unconstitutional.
Obviously, with the legislature facing a $900-million-to-$1.3-billion budget shortfall right now, plus the mandate in the Supreme Court's separate McCleary decision to fund K-12 education (estimated at about $1.4 billion in additional funding this biennium), this morning's decision has big implications for the action in Olympia where a batch of revenue ideas are on the table, such as a capital gains tax and legislation to repeal the out-of-state sales tax exemption.
Also on the table, started in advance of the ruling (they obviously saw it coming): A Republican proposal to pass a constitutional amendment (which, under the constitution, actually does require a two-thirds vote of the legislature) affirming the two-thirds rule to pass taxes.
Here are some of this morning's reactions to the court's ruling.
From Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee (who has pledged not to raise taxes that go to the state's general fund):
The state Supreme Court did the right thing today in ruling that a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation would alter our system of government. The supermajority requirement gave a legislative minority the power to squelch ideas even when those ideas had majority support. That is inconsistent with our fundamental form of representative democracy.
Majority rule is a foundation of our system of government. Alexander Hamilton understood this and warned that giving ‘the minority a negative upon the majority’ would cause ‘tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.’ James Madison understood this. And the framers of Washington’s constitution had vigorous debate on the issue and were deliberate in embedding the principle of majority rule in our constitution.
Inslee's definitive statement sets asides any question that, like Democratic former Gov. Gary Locke, who sided with Tim Eyman's 1999 car tab limit, I-695, by signing legislation that enacted it after the court threw it out, he will be cowed by populist outrage.
Inslee's defnitive statement sets aside any question that he will be cowed by populist outrage.
PubliCola footnote: We're loving Inslee's reference to Hamilton and Madison. From PubliCola's about page: "Bringing you cola for the people, PubliCola is named after Publius Valerius PubliCola, the alias for the authors of the Federalist Papers—the original bloggers." That'd be Hamilton and Madison.
As for populist outrage: Eyman headed up the successful I-1053 campaign in 2010 (and for good measure, passed a identical measure last year, I-1185). He's also passed a previous two-thirds requirement, I-960, in 2007. (At their political peril, the legislature can amend measures every two years).
Before Eyman was active, voters passed two-thirds requirements in the early 90s.
Here's Eyman's populist statement:
In 2007, I-960 was approved (52%) despite opponents spending $1.3 million. In 2010, I-1053 was approved (64%) despite opponents spending $1.6 million. And just 3 months ago with I-1185, almost 2/3 of voters approved the 2/3-for-taxes vote requirement. For 20 years, opponents have spent millions of dollars trying to convince the voters to not support these policies. In all those efforts, we had no advertising campaign for any of these measures: we never put out a single TV ad, radio ad, or newspaper ad for 695/747/960/1053/1185. But voters approved these policies anyway because they recognized the need for them.
Almost 2/3 of voters approved the 2/3-for-taxes vote requirement in November. That's 1.9 million voters. It passed in every county and received overwhelming support in every legislative district outside Seattle (44 of 49 districts ). The depth and breadth of public support for this policy is extraordinary.
In light of today's ruling, all eyes now move to the Legislature and what they're going to do. 88 of 98 house members and 44 of 49 senators were elected in districts with voters who overwhelmingly support the 2/3-for-taxes vote requirement. Governor Inslee received 1.6 million votes but Initiative 1185 got 1.9 million votes.
An interesting political thread in this story is that the Washington Education Association (the teachers' union) and the League of Education Voters (the state's main education reform group)—usaully tense adversaries over teacher accountability—both signed on to the case seeking to have I-1053 ruled unconstitutional.
The two education groups issued a joint statement today, tying the decision to the Court's McCleary decision:
"This ruling is a huge win for kids and schools,” said Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, one of the lead plaintiffs. “Washington schools need to be fully funded in order to ensure that all kids reach their potential. This ruling, combined with the recent McCleary decision, will help ensure that our kids have all the resources they need to get an excellent education.”
"This latest Supreme Court ruling paves the way for the legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools as mandated by the Washington Constitution and the Court's earlier McCleary decision. We urge the House and the Senate to increase funding for our schools so we can begin to reduce overcrowded class sizes and expand all-day kindergarten. Our students’ future depends on it,” said Mary Lindquist, President of the Washington Education Association.
One ironic footnote about this: The teachers' union actually fought against the landmark 2009 education reform legislation that McCleary cites as the blueprint for funding basic education. LEV lobbied for that legislation.
State Sen. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle) was one of the canny Democratic house reps in 2011 who cued up the legal challenge to I-1053 by forcing a floor vote on a big bank tax loophole repeal, which 1053 proponents argued would constitute a tax increase. The legislation lost, but it allowed Frockt and a crew of Democratic reps to gain standing (they complained that they couldn't do their job) and challenge the law.
Here's Sen. Frockt's statement:
Today the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that our state constitution sets forth a clear requirement for legislation, including tax legislation, to be passed by a simple majority unless an alternative requirement is specified in the constitution.
Our state is facing major challenges like a still-recovering economy, an underfunded educational system, massive transportation needs and yet another budget shortfall, and the elected representatives of the people should have a broad range of policy options available to them when addressing these challenges.
A simple majority requirement for revenue legislation means lawmakers will be better equipped to examine and, if necessary, repeal tax exemptions that don't create jobs or help our state but are vociferously defended by narrow special interests. We must continue to be responsible stewards of tax dollars and do more with less, but when revenue options do come up for a vote, today's ruling means that the elected representatives of the people will be able to hold a fair vote in which every legislator’s vote counts equally.
The house Republicans—who ironically approved the big bank repeal anyway the following year—also issued a statement this morning.
"While today’s ruling impacts the law of the land, it doesn’t change the will of the people"—Rep. Gary AlexanderRep. Gary Alexander (R-2, Olympia), the ranking Republican on the appropriations committee, pushed the populist outrage a little far with his "will of the people" vs. "law of the land" conceit. Here's what he said:
Today’s ruling by the state Supreme Court is extremely unfortunate for the taxpayers in this state. The public expects a high threshold for tax increases and has made that expectation abundantly clear in the last two decades.
While today’s ruling impacts the law of the land, it doesn’t change the will of the people. As the budget leader for House Republicans, I will continue to forge ahead with our plan to create a sustainable and transparent budget with no new taxes. I believe this is what the people want – a government that lives within its means – despite the court’s actions.
In the end, today’s ruling shows how important it is to place the taxpayer protections into the state constitution. We have legislation ready to be enacted today – right now. I urge the majority party in the House to join with House Republicans to adopt a new constitutional amendment so that we can, once and for all, put this issue to rest and get on with responsible governing.
The senate Republicans, who have an effective majority as part of the Majority Coalition Caucus (as opposed to the minority Republicans in the house) are the ones to watch. A) They passed state Sen. Pam Roach's (R-31, Auburn) bill calling for a constitutional amendment to institute the two-thirds rule out of her government operations committee on February 19, and the bill got a hearing in Sen. Andy Hill's (R-45, Redmond) ways and means committee earlier this week. Hill's staff couldn't say if the bill would be passed out of committee today or not. The senate Republicans are also the ones who could stop any tax increase from the house side in its tracks.