February 27, 2013 in City

For lawmakers, supermajority a taxing constitutional debate

Roach pushes amendment during state Senate hearing
By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – A proposed constitutional amendment gave a Senate panel another chance to argue whether democracy is helped or hurt by requiring legislative supermajorities to approve tax increases.

Definitely helped, state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, the sponsor of the amendment, told the Ways and Means Committee. The requirement has been approved five times by voters through the initiative process, she noted, including last year. Spokane voters recently changed their charter to require a supermajority from their City Council on tax increases.

“It’s time for the people in the Legislature to match the people of the state,” Roach said, and began listing approval percentages for committee members.

State Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Ed Murray, both Seattle Democrats, were quick to raise their hands to indicate that their districts rejected that initiative.

Democracy is definitely hurt by the requirement, said Nick Federici of Our Economic Future Coalition, an umbrella group for progressive and liberal organizations. If it takes a two-thirds majority to pass a tax increase, that means a one-third minority can block one, he said.

When the Legislature suspends or repeals the supermajority, the voters reinstate it, even though opponents have a chance to convince them to vote it down, rejoined Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley: “Why not enshrine it in the constitution? It seems to be what the public wants.”

“Even things I like I don’t necessarily think should be enshrined in the constitution,” Federici replied. Changing the constitution is much more difficult than changing a statute, he said.

And not everything the public likes at one point in history proves to be a good idea, Murray said.

Although voters gave Initiative 1185 about 64 percent approval last fall, a King County Superior Court judge has ruled a supermajority for taxes can’t be enacted by an initiative but only by a constitutional amendment. That decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule soon.

Roach’s amendment needs only a simple majority to move out of the Republican-controlled Ways and Means Committee to have a chance at a vote by the full Senate. But it would need a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House to go on the ballot this fall. If it gets that far, it needs only a simple majority by voters to be added to the constitution.

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