Is Washington’s state constitution undemocratic? Some opponents of supermajority vote requirements seem to think so. Voters have enacted or re-affirmed the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases four times: 1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010. They are being asked do so for the fifth time this year with Initiative 1185.
Concerned about the growing share of the state operating budget going to pay debt service and therefore not available for other programs, lawmakers in 2011 created a Commission on State Debt by passing Senate Bill 5181. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 40-1 and the House by a vote of 79-14. As noted by the bill report and text of SB 5181:
This November voters will consider Senate Joint Resolution 8221 to reduce Washington’s constitutional debt limit over a twenty year period (2014-2034) from nine to eight percent while changing the calculation of revenue for purposes of determining the state debt limit.
In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 1185. The measure would reaffirm the nearly 20-year-old state law requiring that tax increases pass with a two-thirds vote in the legislature or receive voter approval. Washington Policy Center has long recommended a two-thirds vote requirement protection for taxpayers and believes such a policy would serve the public interest by limiting the financial burden state government places on the people.
Undeterred by four straight losses at the ballot box (2010, 2007, 1998 and 1993), opponents of Washington's nearly 20 year old supermajority vote requirement for tax increases are once again trying to have the voter-approved requirement declared unconstitutional.
In response to this latest legal challenge the Association of Washington Business (AWB) has filed a legal brief defending the law. Among the points AWB makes:
There has been some concern expressed that under Initiative 1185 (supermajority for tax increases), a highway or bridge toll increase would be subject to the same two-thirds vote requirement as tax increases. Nothing in the text of the measure supports this interpretation, however.
Thanks to a budget proviso directing the Washington State Parks Commission to develop a report showing how the agency plans "to make the parks system self-supporting," the future of state parks has taken center stage in recent weeks.
One of the many interesting details in the State Parks Commission's report was this section:
Initiative 1185 will provide Washingtonians this November the opportunity to vote for the fifth time in support of the requirement for tax increases to receive a supermajority vote in the Legislature. Including Washington, 18 states currently have some form of restriction on legislative tax increases.
If you're one of those who likes to wait till the last possible moment to place your ballot in the mail your time is running out. Ballots need to be postmarked by 8 p.m. tonight. Once the "polls" close, we can begin the long wait for results to trickle in over the coming weeks.
According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, however, the vast majority of states require mail-in ballots to actually be received by Election Day. NASS reports:
Jason Mercier is Director of the Center for Government Reform at Washington Policy Center. He is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News, serves on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, and was an advisor to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee. In June 2010, former Governor Gregoire appointed Jason as WPC’s representative on her Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Panel. Jason holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washington State University.