Senate adopts rule to require 2/3 vote for tax bills to move to floor

Jan 12, 2017

The only thing currently colder than the weather is the Senate's reaction to Governor Inslee's more than $5 billion tax increase proposals. Acknowledging this reality, when asked by TVW if he expects his proposals to be enacted the Governor responded with a laugh: "Obviously this isn't the budget that is going to pass the legislature because this is a democracy and everyone is going to have a say in this."

Speaking of a democracy and having a say in things, six times since 1993 the voters have passed a ballot measure to require a supermajority vote to raise taxes. Following an adverse court ruling in 2013 a constitutional amendment is needed to make this policy binding on the full legislature. While efforts continue to allow the voters to be the ones to finally end this debate and not the courts, the Senate took action this week to tell voters they've been heard loud and clear. 

As allowed under Article 2, Section 9 of the state constitution the Senate adopted its procedural rules this week. Of particular note is Rule 64 which requires a 2/3 vote to move a bill that increases taxes to the floor unless a referendum clause is included. This rules doesn't require a 2/3 vote for final passage (the issue of the court ruling) but instead address the procedural way certain bills come to the floor. Though some say this is unconstitutional the Supreme Court has made it clear that the constitution gives the legislature the power to set its own procedural rules. 

A press release from Sen. Baumgartner and Sen. Ericksen noted: 

"Two years ago, the Senate adopted a similar requirement for the passage of new taxes. But Lt. Gov. Brad Owen refused to enforce it, saying he believed the rule unconstitutional. Lawmakers did not challenge the ruling at that time. Baumgartner and Ericksen maintain the ruling was improper, and say they will quickly demand a vote to override such a ruling should it occur again."

Senate Rule 32 allows for rulings of the Lt. Governor to be overturned. Additional details on that process here

While the new Senate rule is a step in the right direction the full legislature should ultimately allow the voters to finally end this debate once and for all with a constitutional amendment. For over 20 years the voters have consistently said they want their lawmakers to reach a broad bipartisan consensus before raising taxes, or to allow voters to make the decision directly. We agree with the Governor that this is a democracy and "everyone should have a say in this." 

Additional Information 
2016 Poll: Lawmakers should act on supermajority for taxes amendment
Will the Senate vote to enforce its rules?
State's public unions are right on supermajority protections