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Tax vote law could be made permanent

GOP senators seek change to constitution

OLYMPIA – The Legislature should honor the “will of the people” and cement the requirement for a supermajority to raise taxes into the state constitution, Republican senators said Thursday.

They like the idea so much the Senate has three proposed constitutional amendments with many of the same co-sponsors, and two with the same wording. On Thursday, all three got a hearing before the Senate Government Operations Committee.

“Our job is to respect the will of the people, to represent them, not to think for them,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, the sponsor of one constitutional amendment and the co-sponsor of two others.

Democrats on the committee asked whether supporters of the supermajority for taxes would be willing to extend it to other big issues facing the Legislature.

Washington has had a requirement for a legislative supermajority to raise taxes – off and on – for almost 20 years.

Passed by initiative, it gets suspended by the Legislature, then reinstituted by a new ballot measure. One such measure, Initiative 1185, passed last year.

The constitutionality of those voter-passed statutes has been argued before the state Supreme Court, and a ruling is thought to be imminent. Some GOP leaders in the Legislature have said they expect the court to rule against the initiative.

Committee Chairwoman Pam Roach, R-Auburn, a sponsor of two proposed amendments and co-sponsor of the third, made a point of telling each committee member how his or her district voted last November on I-1185, the most recent ballot measure for a supermajority votes on taxes.

When opponents of the concept called it a “one-way street” because tax cuts and loopholes can be passed with a simple majority, or argued it distorts democracy by giving more power to the minority, Roach asked in which districts they lived and told them how the voters there supported I-1183.

“Do we think voters are not very smart?” Roach asked at one point.

Sen. Steve Conway, D-South Tacoma, questioned where supermajority requirements for legislative action should stop. Should the state’s transportation budget, for example, be subject to that higher bar, he asked.

Voters might not give the same support to a constitutional amendment that they do to an initiative, he added: “You’d have to test this.”

“I’d love to test that,” Roach countered.

An initiative goes on the ballot if it gets the required number of signatures, and becomes law if it passes with a simple majority in a general election. After two years, it can be changed by a simple majority in the Legislature.

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds approval in each chamber as well as a majority vote in a general election. It can’t be changed, except by another amendment.

The supermajority laws for taxes have been championed by perennial initiative promoter Tim Eyman. Amber Carter, a representative of the Association of Washington Business, said that needs to change.

“It’s time to take the issue away from Tim Eyman and for the Legislature to own tax policy,” she said.

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