Spokane City Council to vote on taxpayer protection measure Dec. 17th

December 5, 2012

The Spokane City Council will decide December 17th whether to follow Pierce County’s lead and place a supermajority requirement to raise taxes before voters.

The charter change would require any new or increased taxes get a majority plus one vote - or five votes total - on the city council to pass.  Currently four “yes” votes are needed for the council to increases taxes on Spokane residents.

As I wrote recently in the Spokesman-Review, the supermajority requirement to raise taxes is popular in Washington state and the Spokane area. In fact, the most recent vote (I-1185) received 70% support in Spokane County. The measure passed in nearly all the precincts in the city of Spokane.

Despite the claims of opponents, supermajority requirements are not undemocratic and are not unusual in Spokane or Washington state. The Spokane city charter already contains several supermajority provisions, including provisions to:

  • put a recall of an elected official on the ballot
  • pass an emergency ordinance
  • override a Mayor’s veto
  • override a popular vote of the people after three years

In the state constitution, there are nearly two dozen supermajority requirements, and of course there are several supermajority provisions in the U.S. constitution that apply to Congress.  Supermajority requirements are common in all states and at all levels of government.

In the end, the supermajority requirement to raise taxes is a policy tool the people can use to limit their financial burden.  It does not make tax increases impossible, it simply requires broad consensus before elected officials increase the cost placed on citizens.

In fact, the city’s most recent tax increase, approved last October, passed with six votes - more than enough needed under this provision.

Perhaps this is why most of the state’s newspapers, including the Spokesman-Review, support the supermajority requirement.

Pierce County voters overwhelmingly approved a charter change in November, requiring a supermajority to raise taxes in that county.

Spokane’s City Council should allow the citizens of Spokane to vote on whether to adopt a reasonable supermajority taxpayer-protection policy. Not letting the voters decide is what would be undemocratic.