Somewhere, Tim Eyman likely has a few choice words for the state Supreme Court. In a 6-3 ruling this morning, the high court ruled that the required two-thirds vote in the legislature to raise taxes - reaffirmed by Eyman's Initiative 1053 in 2010 - is unconstitutional. Lawmakers in Olympia will now be able to raise taxes with only the blessing of a simple majority in the House and Senate and the governor's signature.
Voters first authorized the two-thirds requirement in 1993. They reimposed it in 1998, 2007, 2010 and reaffirmed in 2012, at least in part because of lawmakers' penchant for suspending the requirement to raise more revenue.
Under state law, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to amend an initiative in the first two years after voters approved it -- a near impossibility given the current makeup of the Legislature. After two years, lawmakers can change voter-approved initiatives with a simple-majority vote. They have done so repeatedly.
Eyman has sponsored new initiatives requiring a two-thirds vote in an effort to stay ahead of the Legislature.
King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller ruled the two-thirds requirement unconstitutional in May. The case was appealed and the Supreme Court heard arguments in September.
While the two-thirds requirement for raising taxes has proven highly popular for voters throughout the state (except for Seattle), the state Supreme Court decided that - in this case - the state Constitution trumps voters' hatred for taxes. By and large, the decision left liberals celebrating, and conservatives fuming.
From the ruling:
We affirm the trial court in part and reverse in part. We affirm the trial court's decision regarding the justiciability and the constitutionality of the Supermajority Requirement. Article II, section 22 states that "[n]o bill shall become a law unless ... a majority of the members elected to each house" vote in its favor. The plain language, constitutional history, and weight of persuasive authority support reading this provision as setting both a minimum and a maximum voting requirement. Therefore, the Supermajority Requirement violates article II, section 22 by requiring certain legislation to receive a two-thirds vote.
In a statement released to the media, Governor Jay Inslee applauded today's decision:
"The state Supreme Court did the right thing today in ruling that a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation would alter our system of government. The supermajority requirement gave a legislative minority the power to squelch ideas even when those ideas had majority support. That is inconsistent with our fundamental form of representative democracy.
"Majority rule is a foundation of our system of government. Alexander Hamilton understood this and warned that giving 'the minority a negative upon the majority' would cause 'tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.' James Madison understood this. And the framers of Washington's constitution had vigorous debate on the issue and were deliberate in embedding the principle of majority rule in our constitution.
"Those principles have served the people of Washington well, and I'm heartened that the state Supreme Court acted today to protect our constitution."
The Washington Education Association is also in full press release mode celebrating the ruling:
"This ruling is a huge win for kids and schools," said Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, one of the lead plaintiffs. "Washington schools need to be fully funded in order to ensure that all kids reach their potential. This ruling, combined with the recent McCleary decision, will help ensure that our kids have all the resources they need to get an excellent education."
Not to be outdone, Eyman also released a statement shortly after the ruling, saying his tax-fighting efforts are needed now more than ever.
"In light of today's ruling, all eyes now move to the Legislature and what they're going to do," Eyman said via an email distributed to the press. "Eighty-eight of 98 house members and 44 of 49 senators were elected in districts with voters who overwhelmingly support the 2/3-for-taxes vote requirement. Governor Inslee received 1.6 million votes but Initiative 1185 got 1.9 million votes. Jack, Mike, and I will continue to work with our supporters to protect struggling taxpayers from higher taxes. It's clear our efforts are needed now more than ever."
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Coalition leaders are also hella bummed:
"I am obviously disappointed with today's decision," said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville in a press release. "The court can rule the way the court decides to rule, but our caucus will stand with the people of this state. ... Washington voters have repeatedly said that they want to see this basic taxpayer protection kept in place and they want it to be harder - not easier - for their taxes to be raised. The only option that now remains for them is to amend the state constitution and put this issue to bed once and for all."
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom also chimed in:
"If citizens have wondered why the Majority Coalition Caucus is so important, this is why; today's decision underlies the need for our emphasis on reforms and spending restraint," said Tom. "The people didn't send us to Olympia to look for ways to tax them more. To solidify our commitment to the voters we are exploring what rule changes we can make in the Senate to guarantee that the will of the people will be respected and that any increase in revenue will require broad bipartisan support and a two-thirds vote in the Senate."
Find the complete ruling below: