OLYMPIA – The latest initiative designed to make it harder for the Washington Legislature to raise taxes survived a court challenge Friday when a King County Superior Court judge refused to block it from the November ballot.
Judge Dean Lum said he believes the measure is clearly beyond the scope of a ballot initiative set down in the state constitution, but that’s not enough to keep it off the ballot.
If approved by voters in November, Initiative 1366 says the Legislature must send voters a constitutional amendment requiring all tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote in each house, or the state sales tax would be cut by 1 percent. The state Supreme Court has previously said a constitutional amendment is the only way to require that a tax increase meet a two-thirds majority. But the Washington Constitution can’t be amended directly by initiative.
I-1366 is the latest campaign vehicle by Tim Eyman and his Spokane associates, City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father, Jack Fagan.
The proposal appears to violate the constitution in three ways, Lum said: It proposes the amendment, which the constitution says must originate in the Legislature, and doesn’t allow lawmakers to change it. It tells the Legislature to submit the proposed amendment to the public without the required two-thirds vote in each house. And it uses the threat of a tax cut, resulting in a cut in services, to force legislators to act.
“Sponsors characterize the legislator’s proposal as a ‘choice’ but there is no choice here,” Lum said.
Despite those flaws, Lum said, courts are reluctant to keep an initiative off the ballot, and people challenging it haven’t established a clear legal right to an injunction that would keep voters from expressing their views on the measure – even if it is later ruled invalid.
Both sides in the dispute found a way to claim victory in Lum’s ruling.
“Opponents’ desperate attempt to prevent the people’s vote on I-1366 failed today and their antidemocratic effort vividly illustrates their lack of trust in the voters,” Eyman said in a news release.
Eyman was joined in the defense of the initiative by Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who said she wasn’t taking a position on the measure but supported the public’s right to vote on it.
Andrew Villeneuve said opponents were “heartened” by Lum’s finding that I-1366 goes beyond the scope of an initiative’s power.
“As we have said all along, I-1366 is a hostage-taking scheme intended to coerce our elected representatives into sabotaging the majority vote requirement of our state constitution, upsetting our plan of government’s carefully crafted balance between majority rule and minority rights,” he said in a post-decision news press release.