The Washington Supreme Court has thrown out as unconstitutional the viciously antidemocratic, reflexively right-wing, school-and-public-services-impoverishing supermajority voting requirement that has tied Washington representatives’ hands, on and off, for the last two decades. This win is so important that northwesterners, even those in neighboring jurisdictions, should be dancing in the streets.
The ruling changes the long-term outlook for everything: state budgets, tax reform, climate policy, tax loopholes for fossil fuel companies, and more. Though politics may temper the ruling’s impacts in the short run, the long view looks newly bright. This is a turning point.
As Goldy reminds us at the Stranger, while the state supreme court “invalidated Washington’s two-thirds supermajority requirement by only a 6-3 margin, it is important to note that there was only one justice who dissented on the merits of the underlying issue.”
Tim Eyman’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, unfair, oil-industry Trojan Horse supermajority rule imposed government by minority faction on the state legislature for closing tax loopholes and raising new revenue. It was the single biggest legal barrier to progress in Washington on issues ranging from climate to education.
Democracy’s most fundamental principle is majority rule. The supermajority rule violated this principle, giving a veto to a minority of just one-third (plus one) of the members of either the state House or senate. Should one-third of just one house be able to veto the elimination of tax loopholes that shower public resources on coal plants, bull semen, laser interferometer gravitational wave observatories, and dozens of other business and commercial activities? Should one-third of either house be able to prevent collection of the revenue needed to fulfill the state’s constitutionally mandated “paramount duty” to fund your community’s schools?
Eyman’s brand of minority rule meant that just 17 members of the Washington Senate held veto power over closing tax loopholes and raising revenue. Who were those 17? The 17 most conservative members—the minority most opposed to closing loopholes and raising revenue. (For political junkies, I included a list at the end of this old post. The list is now out of date; fortunately, it’s also now moot!)
These now-deposed 17 were not simply a few degrees right of center on the state’s political continuum. They were a distinct ideological minority, polarized away from the governing coalition in Olympia and radically to the right of their peers. All white, mostly male, and mostly from outlying places like Ritzville and Moses Lake, they were also mostly Republican. Judging from their voting records, they were twice as conservative as the typical member of the state senate.
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And supermajority voting had put them in charge. That’s what minority rule looked like. Thanks to the Supreme Court, it’s over.
The court’s decision restores the Washington legislature to majority rule and makes many good things more possible: Some of them are much in the news, such as adequate funding for public education, as required by recent state supreme court decisions. Other, less-known reforms would also enter the realm of possibility: an oil fee to support Puget Sound clean-up, closing a tax loophole for oil refiners, perhaps even a revenue-neutral carbon tax shift as in British Columbia, or a cap-and-trade system as in California.
Progress on any of these fronts will still take a long struggle to win a majority of votes in the legislature, but when it comes, it will give courage to British Columbia and Oregon to move forward too. This Supreme Court ruling is a victory for all of Cascadia.
Oh, and permit me a moment of gloating: I was 100 percent right about the votes when I wrote about the oral arguments on the case back in September. At the time, I counted six votes to overturn the law as unconstitutional, and I correctly anticipated how each member of the court would vote. Not bad for a novice court watcher.
Any word on when the repeal efforts will start to remove the nearly two dozen existing supermajority requirements (including the one just added in 2007) from the state Constitution to further restore “majority” rule?
Here are some of the supermajority requirements already in the state constitution inhibiting “majority” rule:
• Article 2, Section 1: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to amend a voter-passed initiative within two years of the initiative’s enactment.
• Article 2, Section 9: Two-thirds vote of the House or Senate required to expel a member.
• Article 2, Section 12: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to convene a special session.
• Article 2, Section 12: In the same section, a two-thirds vote of the legislature required to consider additional issues during a special session.
• Article 2, Section 24: A 60% vote of the legislature or a 60% vote of the people required to approve a lottery.
• Article 2, Section 36: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to consider a newly introduced bill within ten days of final adjournment.
• Article 2, Section 43: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to amend a redistricting plan.
• Article 2, Section 43: In the same section, a two-thirds vote of the legislature required to reconvene a redistricting commission.
• Article 3, Section 12: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to override a governor’s veto.
• Article 4, Section 9: Three-fourths vote of the legislature required to remove a judge, attorney general or prosecuting attorney from office.
• Article 5, Section 1: Two-thirds vote of the Senate required to convict a state elected official after impeachment.
• Article 7, Section 2: Three-fifths vote of the people required to approve a local tax levy (except for school levies).
• Article 7, Section 12: Three-fifths vote of the legislature required to access funds in budget stabilization account (with few exceptions).
• Article 8, Section 1: Three-fifths vote of the legislature required to incur state debt.
• Article 8, Section 6: Three-fifths vote of the people required to incur local district debt in excess of 1.5% of the local property tax base.
• Article 11, Section 2: Three-fifths vote of the people required to relocate a county seat.
• Article 11, Section 16: Three-fifths vote of the people required to incur city or county debt in excess of 1.5% of the property tax base.
• Article 14, Section 2: Two-thirds vote of the people required to relocate the state capitol.
• Article 23, Section 1: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to propose amendments to the state constitution to the people.
• Article 23, Section 2: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to propose convening a state constitutional convention to the people.
• Article 28, Section 1: Two-thirds vote of the legislature required to change the membership of the independent state salary commission.
• Article 32, Section 1: Three-fifths vote of the legislature required to expand the definition of an industrial development project once bonds have been issued.
Thanks for writing. I imagine that you and your friends at Washington Policy Center do not share my enthusiasm about the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Good luck in doing what the Supreme Court said you need to do — and I have argued for as long as I’ve been writing about supermajority requirements — if you want to reclaim control of all new taxes and tax loopholes for your ideological kin in Olympia: amend Washington’s state constitution.
To do so, just win the support of two-thirds of each house plus a majority vote of the electorate.
Thanks. That’s been the plan long before the Court challenge and even if they had upheld the law. Tax policy needs to be predictable and leaving it subject to ongoing legal challenge or ballot measures every two years is the last thing you want.
The legislative district vote breakdown for I-1185 provides a good starting point to find legislative supporters for SJR 8205 (especially with approval in 44 of the 49 districts): http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/sites/default/files/1185 legislative district.pdf
Yeah, well, good luck with that campaign. You’ll have your work cut out for you. It’ll be even harder than it proved for us to try to win a two-thirds majority to close a tax loophole favoring Wyoming coal. Meanwhile, representative democracy will now work more as it was designed in Washington’s constitution. The legislature will make complicated, nuanced decisions, compromised decisions about spending and taxes. Neither you nor I will likely be happy with all the decisions, but the rules will no longer favor one team perniciously.
I agree that having a predictable tax policy would be great: one that, for example, gradually and steadily and predictably shifts taxes, dollar for dollar, off of business revenue and retail sales and onto climate-changing emissions of greenhouse gases. We’ve been so pleased to be able to partner with Washington Policy Center on this market-smart strategy to limit climate change. A predictable carbon tax shift would sure help with our biggest collective challenge as a society: the unpredictability of catastrophic climate change.
Here’s another tax reform idea that may be of interest to you to work together on. We think the current preferences should be repealed on a revenue neutral basis and replaced with a single business tax (gross receipts margins tax). Some details here: https://www.washingtonpolicy.org/blog/post/what-do-about-state%E2%80%99s-bo-tax-and-various-preferences
In the meantime, this looks like a promising way to help JLARC continue the existing review process: https://www.washingtonpolicy.org/blog/post/tax-preference-review-bill-introduced
Since Sightline apparently likes democracy and majority rule, I assume you have no problem with I-1053/1185’s referendum requirement for tax increases, right?
So, if you want corporate tax loopholes ended then you (Alan) are fine with the removal of the tax break for solar panels (up to $5,000)and the exemption for electric cars? Tax exemptions are not designed for corporations, they are instituted to get businesses to locate and/or expand in your state. I don’t know if you have looked around this country but it is very … very competitive between states to encourage a business to come to your state, create jobs.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find other states competing for the precious bull semen industry jobs.
Getting rid of Tim Eyman’s 2/3 rule will help a little, but the real problem is the plutocracy driving all this – the conentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands. Until we tackle this wealth / power inequality both locally and nationally, we will always be fighting a losing battle, even when we win elections.
I suspect that it will take a major national crisis to change this, such as a debt crisis where the moneyed interests take a big hit because the government is no longer is a position to bail them out at public expense. I the end of growth, driven by peak oil, to be the driver of such a crisis, possibly within the next decade.
What a load of emotional drivel from Burkhart.