Initiative 1185: To Affirm the Two-thirds Vote Requirement for Tax Increases

September 5, 2012

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.

Key Findings

  • Initiative 1185 would require that any tax increase be passed with a two-thirds vote in the legislature or by a direct vote of the people.
  • Voters have enacted or reaffirmed the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases four times, in 1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010.
  • Since then the legislature has suspended the two-thirds vote requirement three times. This occurred most recently in 2010, when lawmakers passed a significant tax increase.
  • Despite suspending it repeatedly, the legislature has never fully repealed the voter-approved requirement that tax increases receive a two-thirds vote.
  • Eighteen states (counting Washington) have enacted some form of supermajority vote requirement for tax increases.
  • If approved for the fifth time, the two-thirds requirement should be added to the state constitution, to prevent lawmakers from suspending it again.

From the conclusion of our I-1185 study:

Initiative 1185 provides voters with an opportunity to clearly frame the state’s budget debate. As has been the case over the past 20 years that the supermajority vote for tax increases has been in effect, if reaffirmed for the fifth time, lawmakers’ attention would shift away from ways to raise new taxes and would focus on fundamental budget reform and restructuring state spending. If Initiative 1185 fails, voters will have indicated their openness for potential tax increases passed by a simple majority vote in the legislature.

Rarely does the vote on one ballot initiative provide policymakers with so much clarity about what policy path voters would like them to take.

Aside from the impact on the state budget, if the two-thirds vote requirement is adopted for the fifth time, constitutional reform is ultimately needed. The voters have voiced their support for a two-thirds vote restriction on four separate occasions, only to have the legislature routinely suspend these requirements.

Rather than continue the current practice of 'suspending' the law every time lawmakers want to raise taxes, while at the same time saying they are honoring the will of the voters and technically leaving the law on the books, leaders in Olympia should refer the question to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment. This would put the debate about a two-thirds vote requirement to rest once and for all, while providing predictability on whether this taxpayer protection will exist from year to year.

Additional Information
Citizens' Guide to Initiative 1185: To Affirm the Two-thirds Vote Requirement for Tax Increases