Pasco should ask voters' opinion on 2/3 for taxes protection

By JASON MERCIER  | 
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Dec 4, 2017

Voters in Pasco may soon have the opportunity to decide whether their city should join Spokane, Spokane Valley, Yakima and Pierce County by requiring a supermajority vote to raise local taxes. As reported by the Tri-City Herald, the Pasco City Council is considering "Resolution No. 3810: Calling for an Advisory Election on Super Majority Approval for Amendments to Taxes, Rates and Fees." If approved by the council, Pasco voters would have the chance to express their preference on this policy during the February 13, 2018 election. 

The tax protection advisory measure says: 

"Please advise the City Council (nonbinding) of your preference regarding supermajority Council approval of modification of municipal taxes, rates, and fees (select one of the following):

[ ] Approve an Ordinance providing for any amendment or modification of any municipal taxes, rates, and fees shall require the affirmative vote of the majority plus one of the full City Council.

[ ] Reject an Ordinance providing for any amendment or modification of any municipal taxes, rates, and fees shall require the affirmative vote of the majority plus one of the full City Council."

A May 2014 poll found that 63 percent of Washingtonians want greater taxpayer protection at the local level. Voters in Washington have enacted or affirmed a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases six times during the past 20 years. In 2012, Initiative 1185 passed statewide with a 64 percent “yes” vote and with majority approval in 44 of the state’s 49 legislative districts and in every county of the state. 

Pasco voters have also overwhelming supported requiring 2/3 for taxes when they've had a chance to vote on it. 70% of voters in the 9th Legislative District and 71% of voters in the 16th Legislative District approved I-1185 in 2012

Along with Spokane, Spokane Valley, Yakima and Pierce County, several states across the country also require a supermajority vote to raise taxes. Some even require voter approval for tax increases. In Michigan, for example, local lawmakers are subject to the Headlee Amendment, which requires voter approval of all tax increases at the state and local level. In Colorado, voter approval is required of all tax increases before they can become law.

Opponents of requiring a supermajority vote to raise taxes say such requirements are undemocratic. Supermajority requirements, however, are a routine part of all democratic governing systems. They exist at the federal, state and local levels and are a common feature of democratic government in other countries. Washington state’s Constitution contains more than 20 supermajority requirements.

The framers of both the Washington state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution did not believe supermajority requirements were unfair or undemocratic. They placed them throughout those documents, believing a higher level of agreement was needed for certain public actions. In fact, legislators have often changed their own rules and adopted higher vote requirements.

By approving a supermajority requirement for tax increases, local government officials would simply be stating a policy preference that they want a higher level of agreement before increasing the financial burden a city or county places on its citizens.

Reasonable tax limitation remains popular and a majority of Washingtonians want greater taxpayer protections to be instituted at the local level. Voters in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Yakima and Pierce County have already demonstrated the support for this policy at the local level. It is important to remember that supermajority vote requirements do not make increasing taxes impossible as demonstrated by Spokane; it simply requires lawmakers to reach greater consensus before raising the financial burden they place on citizens.

Though some concern has been expressed about the timing of action on Resolution No. 3810, hearing directly from Pasco voters on this issue will help inform the new city council members of what their constituents want. Pasco voters should be provided this opportunity. Based on prior state elections and a statewide poll, if provided the opportunity to weigh in, Pasco voters are likely to overwhelming recommend a supermajority vote to raise taxes.

Additional Information
Enacting Local Supermajority Vote Requirements to Increase Taxes: A Guide for Washington Cities and Counties
63% of voters want local supermajority for taxes protections