When will Supreme Court rule on 2/3 for taxes?

January 17, 2013

That's the billion dollar question. Another week has gone by without the State Supreme Court issuing its ruling on the state's 20 year old supermajority for taxes requirement. With each passing week the chances of a decision not coming during the 2013 Legislative Session increase. But will a ruling from the Court really change the options for lawmakers?

Not really.

Governor Inslee has repeatedly reaffirmed that he does not support tax increases to balance the budget and would go so far as to veto them (he is open to a transportation tax package, however).

The Senate Majority Coalition has also ruled out tax increases and Sen. Murray has indicated that any tax increases would likely need to go to the people as a referendum

When the Court does rule, there are three possible scenarios:

  • Option 1: The Court upholds its previous precedents and dismisses the case for lack of standing. Under this scenario the status quo will remain unchanged and we likely will see this issue on the ballot every two years.
  • Option 2: The Court upholds the 2/3 for taxes requirement. As with option one, though the legal question will be resolved, we likely will see this issue on the ballot every two years.
  • Option 3: The Court strikes down the 2/3 for taxes requirement. While this scenario will take the policy off the books it will not negate the fact the 20 year old requirement has been approved by the voters on five separate occasions and in the past when the Court has invalidated a law passed by the people the Legislature has sought to implement their will (I-695 car tabs and I-747 property tax cap).

The legislative response to each of these scenarios is the same: A constitutional amendment.

A constitutional amendment would provide the public and businesses with predictability about whether this tax protection will exist from year to year and whether or not the five time approval of the voters for this policy was a fluke or actually reflects their consistent and ongoing desire for lawmakers to build a strong public consensus on the need for any proposed tax increase.

Lawmakers have already introduced constitutional amendments in both the House and Senate.

Representatives Haler, Dahlquist, Kristiansen, and Magendanz have introduced HJR 4201: Requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval of tax increase legislation.

Senators Benton, Ericksen, Braun, Bailey, Dammeier, Sheldon, Delvin, Becker, Schoesler, Honeyford, Pearson, King, Roach, and Hewitt have introduced SJR 8200: Amending the Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes.

Along with passing statewide with 64% approval, I-1185 received support in 44 of the state's 49 Legislative Districts. This means that should lawmakers merely vote their Legislative Districts there would be 90% support for this policy.

With voters and lawmakers repeatedly enacting the supermajority vote for taxes requirement over the past 20 years, what could be more representative of the public will than allowing a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment to help end this debate once and for all?

Additional Information
Potential Democrat sponsors for supermajority for taxes constitutional amendment
Voters' mandate on tax increases
Supermajority for Taxes Legislative Survey Results
(Results reflect original publication totals)
End the constant back-and-forth over supermajority for tax increases
Supermajority Vote Requirements Are a Basic Part of Washington's Democracy
Tax restrictions across the country