OLYMPIA – Washington voters will decide this fall whether they want to try to force the Legislature into passing a constitutional amendment that would require supermajorities for tax increases.
The state Supreme Court agreed Friday with a lower court that Initiative 1366, the latest ballot measure from Tim Eyman and his Spokane partners Mike and Jack Fagan, can’t be kept off the ballot because some people think it’s unconstitutional.
Initiative opponents, who include the King County elections director and two Seattle legislators, didn’t meet the high burden for blocking an initiative before voters have a chance to weigh in, a two-page order signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said. The court considered the case this week and issued the order quickly because elections officials are preparing to print ballots for the November election. Reasoning behind the order will be issued “in due course,” Madsen said.
I-1366, if approved, would give the Legislature two choices in 2016: Pass and send to voters that fall a constitutional amendment requiring all future tax increases be approved by two-thirds votes, or have the state sales tax cut by 1 percent.
Eyman and company have introduced, and voters have approved, several previous initiatives that required such a supermajority for taxes, but the Supreme Court ruled such a change can’t be made by initiative, which has the same authority as a statute passed by the Legislature. To make such a change requires a constitutional amendment, the court said in 2013.
But the state constitution can’t be amended by initiative in Washington. An amendment must start in the Legislature, where it needs a two-thirds approval in both chambers before going to voters. While many Republicans back the concept, it does not have much support among Democrats. Constitutional amendments calling for that supermajority have been introduced since the 2013 ruling but never passed.
Opponents of the initiative contend such a back-door approach to a constitutional amendment is unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court has been consistent on declining to get involved in initiative battles before the voters weigh in. It won’t necessarily offer an opinion on the viability of I-1366 when it publishes its reasoning on the order.
In an email, Eyman said opponents “don’t trust voters and believe the people aren’t smart enough to understand our measure.”
Andrew Villanueva of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a regular critic of Eyman, said opponents were disappointed by the decision but not surprised, and were planning a campaign to defeat I-1366.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who was named as a defendant in the case because she’s the state’s chief elections officer, praised the court for leaving the initiative on the ballot where voters can make their choices known through “direct democracy.”
“We take no position on I-1366 or whether it is constitutional, but we are pleased that the court is not preventing a vote on it,” Wyman said in a news release shortly after the order was filed.