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Washington Democrats challenge tax-curbing initiative

Mon., July 25, 2011, 3:22 p.m.

OLYMPIA — A dozen Democratic lawmakers and two Washington education groups asked a judge Monday to overturn a voter-approved initiative that requires the Legislature to have a supermajority to raise taxes.

The lawsuit filed in King County, led by the League of Education Voters and the Washington Education Association, argues that the law unconstitutionally infringes on the power of the Legislature to pass laws and prevents the state from fulfilling its constitutional obligations to adequately fund education.

“The reality is that we’re stuck in an all-cuts mode, where services we know are good investments to the state don’t get funded,” said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, one of the dozen House Democrats backing the lawsuit.

The two-thirds majority rule was part of a Tim Eyman initiative that 64 percent of voters approved last year. Democratic leaders could not get Republicans to support any tax increases this year, forcing lawmakers to balance the budget with heavy cuts to education.

Pederson said he doesn’t expect any broad tax increases if the measure is successful. But he argued that the Legislature needs the ability to at least repeal tax exemptions, such as one for banks.

Eyman pointed to past court rulings on initiatives as a reason he expects this one to stand, and he said the lawsuit indicated that lawmakers were unwilling to follow the will of voters.

“It really shows just a complete and total disregard for the voters and a complete, arrogant dismissal of the courts themselves,” Eyman said.

But Eyman also said he thinks the lawsuit will be a positive for him, because it could galvanize voters to support his latest initiative. The proposal for this year’s ballot would require the Legislature to approve tolls and prevent lawmakers from shifting that duty to the state transportation commission.

To fill a $5 billion shortfall in the budget cycle that began in July, state lawmakers relied on $4.5 billion in projected spending cuts. The plan reduces salaries for teachers and classified educational staff by 1.9 percent while slashing pay for administrative staff by 3 percent. It suspends programs designed to keep class sizes low.

“Washington’s constitution makes it clear the state’s paramount duty is to ‘make ample provision’ for the education of every child,” said Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters. “This statute, and similar measures enacted in recent years, hamstrings our state’s ability to invest in the quality public schools our children need to succeed in life.”

The other Democratic representatives who have signed on to the lawsuit: Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, David Frockt of Seattle, Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, Deb Eddy of Kirkland, Sam Hunt of Olympia, Jim Moeller of Vancouver, Timm Ormsby of Spokane, Eric Pettigrew of Seattle, Chris Reykdal of Tumwater, Cindy Ryu of Shoreline and Mike Sells of Everett.


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