Morning Fizz

Democrats Begin Legal Challenge to Two-Thirds Rule

By Morning Fizz May 25, 2011

1. The King County Democrats voted on their primary election endorsements last night for this year's Seattle city council races; candidates need at least two thirds of the 50-plus King County Democrats Central Committee to get the endorsement.

Incumbents Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, and Tom Rasmussen all won unanimous endorsements. The two other incumbents who are up this year, Bruce Harrell and Jean Godden, also won endorsements, clearing the two-thirds hurdle.

The Democrats also endorsed challengers Maurice Classen (running against Godden) and Bobby Forch (also running against Godden).

Sandy Cioffi (running against Rasmussen), Dian Ferguson (running against Clark), Brad Meacham (running against Harrell), and Michael Taylor-Judd (running against Godden) didn't get the two-thirds (of the 50 plus on the committee) needed for an endorsement. [pullquote]The Democrats took the vote in order to cue up a formal court challenge to I-1053, the two-thirds for new taxes rule.[/pullquote]

2. Late last night, the state house Democrats forced a floor vote on Rep. Laurie Jinkins' (D-27, Tacoma) bill to repeal an $83 million bank loophole and shift the money to K-3 class size reductions. While the Democrats needed a two-thirds majority and only got 52 votes (it was 52-42 in a straight party line vote), the losing vote wasn't just a symbolic effort to embarrass Republicans for voting against kids and for banks.

PubliCola has confirmed that the Democrats took the vote in order to cue up a formal court challenge to I-1053, the rule that requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes.

Here's the deal: When the rule (then known as I-960) was challenged in 2009 by state senate majority leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane), the state supreme court dismissed her case, ruling that she brought the case "improperly" because she hadn't taken the appropriate steps in the legislature to resolve the issue herself. As a result the court said it didn't have the right to interfere in legislative matters.

Specifically, when a tax measure comes up, the body needs to formally ask: how many votes are required; does that two-thirds requirement violate the constitution; and can the legislature vote to change the rule? (Read the court's 2009 ruling here and check out page 21—the court spells out the matter there.)

During last night's vote, Reps. Jinkins, Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill), and David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle)—all lawyers—asked those questions respectively before the vote.

Speaker Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) ruled that the constitutional question was up to the courts to decide.

And well, if all goes according to the Democrats' plan, the courts just might.

After the vote, Jinkins, who wouldn't confirm that the vote was part of a legal strategy, told PubliCola:
We needed to clarify how many votes it would take for it to pass and that the speaker couldn't rule on [the] constitutionality, only the courts can. I know there are members [of the Democratic house caucus] including me who believe the requirement to be unconstitutional.

3. While a package to extend a pair of taxes—a restaurant tax and car rental tax that were set to expire in 2012—and reallocate them (along with another batch of ongoing taxes) from stadium debt to pay for arts, housing, and expansion of the Seattle Convention Center failed last week, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott White (D-46, N. Seattle),  passed a revised version in the senate yesterday.

The new bill, headed to the house today, uses the less controversial taxes—the ongoing hotel/motel tax—and shifts them to fund arts and housing after the Kingdome is paid of next year and Qwest field debt is paid off in 2021.
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