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Eye On Olympia

Brown suing to overturn high threshold for increasing taxes, says it’s unconstitutional…

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown plans to file a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court today to overturn part of Tim Eyman’s anti-tax Initiative 960, approved by voters in November.

The lawsuit is in response to Senate President Brad Owen’s ruling last week upholding I-960. During debate on a small liquor-tax increase, Owen ruled that passing the tax would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature or would have to go to the ballot for voters to approve.

I-960 reaffirmed the two-thirds requirement, which dates back to 1993’s Initiative 601. (Approved by voters in 1992, it took effect in 1993.) Legislative budget writers in both parties have long chafed at I-601’s limit, but they repeatedly amended and suspended it.

Brown says the requirement is clearly unconstitutional. The constitution — which neither initiative amended — says it just takes a simple majority of lawmakers to pass a tax increase. Not two-thirds.

“This is about defending the Constitution and Legislature’s ability to pass laws under the Constitution,” she told the Associated Press yesterday.

Today, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she knew nothing of the lawsuit until she read about it in a newspaper this morning. But she said the challenge wasn’t a surprise. During the I-960 campaign, she noted, a legal challenge was widely predicted.

“I’m not the least bit surprised,” Gregoire said, “and if there’s going to be a lawsuit, I’d just as soon get it done.” She wasn’t advised about it in advance and isn’t participating in it, she said.

Asked if the lawsuit, as Eyman says, is a setup for large tax increases next year:

“This is no time to talk about taxes,” she said. “I see no reason whatsoever to be talking about taxes.”

But when a reporter noted that the state’s own nonpartisan budget staffers are predicing a large deficit in the next budget cycle:

“I have no idea,” she said, saying there are three revenue forecasts between now and the next budget.

Pressed for her opinion, Gregoire said I-601 “really hasn’t worked,” forcing lawmakers to amend it. “There are some issues with regard to 960 that are very, very cumbersome,” she added.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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