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News / Clark County News

Washington Senate approves curb on new taxes

Two-thirds majority required to bring measure to floor

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: January 12, 2015, 4:00pm

On the opening day of the 2015 legislative session, the state Senate voted to make it harder for itself to increase taxes — a move Democrats criticized as a path to gridlock.

The new rule, filed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, would require a two-thirds vote before a tax measure could be brought to the Senate floor for final passage. Twenty six senators voted in favor of the rule change.

“It really makes me sad to see my colleagues across the aisle demonstrate their lack of respect for this institution,” Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver said. “Senate rules have served our state well for over 100 years and an attempt to add this two-thirds requirement, sadly, in my mind, opens the door for gridlock in our state similar to what we’ve seen in Congress.”

The change only applies to the Senate and would only be applicable to new taxes, such as the governor’s proposed tax on polluters. A simple majority would still be required for raising existing taxes, such as the sales tax.

Leading up to the legislative session, lawmakers from both parties touted a commitment toward bipartisanship. Lawmakers have 105 days to tackle a wide range of difficult issues, including how to adequately fund the state’s public schools and how to address its transportation needs.

Democrats said this rule change would make compromise more difficult.

“While I wish we could have applied this rule to all taxes that might come before the Legislature this session, applying it to new taxes is still very significant. This will make it much more difficult for Gov. Jay Inslee to pass his misguided proposals for cap-and-trade and a new capital gains tax,” Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said in a statement.

In 2013, the Washington Supreme Court struck down an initiative-passed law requiring a legislative supermajority for tax hikes. But lawmakers say each chamber is allowed to adopt its own procedural rules.

“The Supreme Court can make their rules in their chamber, we’ll make our rules here,” Baumgartner told the Associated Press.

In another interesting move on opening day, Democrats joined to elect Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn as Senate president pro tempore.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, aligned with the Democrats to help secure the leadership spot for Roach.

Many viewed the political maneuver as revenge on Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat from Potlatch who has caucused with Republicans for the past couple of years and was supported by most Republicans in the vote for the pro tempore position.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Columbian Political Writer