One of the most intriguing ironies in Washington state politics in recent years occurred in the fall of 2010. When voters were asked if a two-thirds majority of the Legislature should be required to increase taxes, although only a majority approval by those voters was needed, almost two-thirds of them supported that ballot measure, Initiative 1053. The precise percentage was 63.7 statewide (71.3 percent in Clark County). That overwhelming support was not surprising. Voters had done the same thing in 1993, 1998 and 2007.Apparently oblivious to that mandate, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller on Wednesday ruled that I-1053 is unconstitutional. But the legal battle is far from over. Attorney General Rob McKenna quickly and correctly said the state will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court “because we believe these voter-enacted laws are constitutional, and we are determined to defend the will of the voters, just as we defend laws passed by the Legislature.”
Wednesday’s ruling wasn’t much of a surprise, and we will be equally unsurprised if the state’s high court reverses the decision. Heller wrote that the supermajority requirement “violates the simple majority provision of Article II, Sec. 22 of the Washington Constitution … .” But supporters of I-1053 provided a strong rebuttal in 2010, based on Article II, Sec. 1: “The legislative authority of the state of Washington shall be vested in the Legislature … but the people reserve to themselves the power to propose bills, laws and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the Legislature.”
The logic of the electorate has been rock-solid, but the arguments of I-1053 opponents have been flimsy. One complaint is that I-1053 destroys the legislators’ ability to solve problems by raising revenue through tax increases. That’s simply not true. I-1053 only makes it more difficult to raise taxes. If lawmakers want to do so, then they can write the bill, acquire two-thirds approval in the Legislature, and go to town on increasing taxes. That failing, here’s yet another strategy for would-be revenue raisers: increase fees instead. Even I-1053 said “new or increased fees require majority legislative approval.”
Wednesday’s court case was brought by a coalition of Democratic lawmakers, the League of Education Voters, the Washington Education Associations and others. Among the strongest advocates of an unconstitutional ruling for I-1053 has been state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. Moeller has been passionate, consistent and well-meaning in his arguments. But he and his cohorts seem to ignore the thrust of Article II, Sec. 1, which protects the power that “the people reserve to themselves … .”
This power is why other courts on three occasions refused even to take up this case. Heller chose to make a ruling, and we believe it was incorrect.
Last year, we asked in an editorial: If the simple majority is sacred in raising taxes, why isn’t it sacred for Initiative 1053, especially when it was 63.7 percent? Fortunately, McKenna will take the voice of the people to the state Supreme Court. Also, signatures are being gathered for a similar measure — Initiative 1185 — targeted for this fall.