Imagine the people of Washington state being sued by the people they elected. Bizarre as that might sound, it’s kind of what happened on Monday when a dozen Democratic legislators asked a judge to overturn Initiative 1053, approved by 63.7 percent of voters last year.
More specifically, the lawmakers — supported by the League of Education Voters and the Washington Education Association — have targeted I-1053’s requirement of two-thirds approval in the Legislature for tax increases. They want it ruled unconstitutional.
For several reasons, Washingtonians should not feel threatened by this legal maneuver. First, this issue has come up in multiple legal cases where the voters’ rights have been sustained. We also have to wonder why the legislators waited eight months to pursue the matter legally.
Also, the dozen Democrats — including state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver — seem to act as though Initiative 1053 destroys their ability to solve problems by raising revenue through tax increases. But it does not. I-1053 only makes that solution tougher to pursue. Prove the need, use that argument to secure two-thirds approval in the Legislature, and the tactic remains fully available.
Besides, tax increases are not the only way to boost revenue. Another way is fees, and even the ballot title of I-1053 specified that “new or increased fees require majority legislative approval.” So it’s not as if the spigot has been twisted permanently closed.
Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, said this week that I-1053, “and similar measures enacted in recent years, hamstrings our state’s ability to invest in the quality of public schools our children need to succeed in life.” Well, depending on your definition of “hamstring,” if voters during the worst economic crisis in seven decades want to make it more difficult to raise taxes, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?
And here’s another question for the dozen Democrats who argue that a simple majority of legislators should be allowed to increase taxes: If the simple majority is sacred in that case, why not with a ballot measure such as I-1053, especially when that collective consent turned out to be 13 percentage points higher than a simple majority?
Give Moeller credit for standing up and taking the heat for his beliefs; they just happen to be misguided in this case. In an online comment on http://www.columbian.com, Moeller explained: “I pledged to protect and defend the Washington State Constitution and the laws of this state. I am NOT against constitutional changes as implemented by the people under the constitution. I do oppose those who would usurp the will of the people expressed through the constitution and consent of the governed with cheap tricks and gimmicks that includes partisan.”
Let’s examine another pledge Moeller has made. It’s on his legislative Web page: “A big part of my job — by far the most important part — is listening to what Vancouver and other Clark County folks have to say regarding the issues before us. Representing the people of our region calls to mind something the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: ‘It is the province of knowledge to speak, and the province of wisdom to listen.’ ”
But is Moeller listening selectively? The people could not have been more clear last fall on Initiative 1053. And as for the entirety of Clark County that Moeller mentioned, the shout of assent here was even louder. Local approval of I-1053 was 71.3 percent.
Legislators who disagree certainly have their right to pursue a legal remedy, but that doesn’t make them right. And they do so at their own peril, as voters justifiably ask: “What’s the use in voting, if our voice will just be ignored?”