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Stuckart relents on supermajority rule

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart will soon be handing out duties to the city’s six other council members.

The Spokane City Council on Monday unanimously agreed to give Stuckart the power to chose which members serve on what boards.

But Stuckart abandoned his proposal to require a supermajority vote to make future changes in the rules for how the council governed.

Each January, council members are assigned to sit on a variety of boards, including those that govern the city park system, the Spokane Transit Authority and the Spokane International Airport.

The change returns the rules to how they worked until the council revoked that right from former council President Joe Shogan.

Even though Stuckart will select a slate of council members to fill positions, the council still must vote on his picks. He said the process won’t change much.

State Supreme Court will hear super-majority appeal

OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court agreed to fast-track an appeal of a case involving the two-thirds majority for tax increases that voters have imposed through initiatives.

The high court said today it will hear the appeal of a challenge to the law by the League of Education Voters, the Washington Education Association and several legislators who filed suit after a bill to end a tax break for large banks received a simple majority, but not the required supermajority. It will take up the case on "an expedited basis" suggesting it could be  heard and decided by the time the next regular session of the Legislature convenes in January.

But possibly not before voters go to the polls in November, with a  new initiative that asks them to extend supermajority for another two years.

The court also refused to grant Attorney General Rob McKenna's request a stay of the judgment issued by King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller in May, meaning the supermajority requirement is not in effect now. But because the Legislature isn't in session, that has little practical effect.

Heller ruled the state constitution calls for a simple majority, not a supermajority, to raise taxes. The constitution does require supermajorities for some other things, so if the writers wanted it for taxes, they could have put it in at that time, he said.

Requiring a higher standard  through an initiative is unconstitutional, Heller said. So is the requirement that a tax passed with a simple majority go to voters, which isn't in the constitution.

Tim Eyman, the sponsor of several voter-approved initiatives to enact or re-enact the super-majority and this year's measure to extend it for two years, said he's confident the Supreme Court will uphold the requirement because it has done so  in the past.

But opponents of I-1185 counter that the court has never ruled directly on the issue of the supermajority. Instead it has let the provision stand by refusing to rule on cases because they didn't provide a "justiciable issue", or something which the court had the authority to decide.

Heller's ruling gives the court a justiciable issue. The case involves a bill that would have removed a tax break large out-of-state banks receive for some first mortgages, while leaving that incentive in place for smaller banks. Money collected from the change in tax policy would have been used to reduce public school class sizes in kindergarten through grade 3. The three legislators who later became plaintiffs in the lawsuit, specifically asked if the change could be passed by a simple majority, or if the House could override that requirement, and were told no by House Speaker Frank Chopp in a dialog that foreshadowed the challenge.

Another potential challenge to the supermajority, which involved taxes on roll-your-own cigarette machines, was dismissed this month when both sides agreed to drop the case.

Vick: Why I Back 2/3s Vote Rule

In an op-ed article, Idaho Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, defends his unsuccessful legislation that would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raises taxes & fees: "When considering taxes and our liberty, I think of a quote from Daniel Webster, during the famous Supreme Court case McCullough v. Maryland, stating “An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy.” I believe there is an important relationship between taxes and individual freedom: any time you raise taxes, you take a little bit of freedom away from those you are taxing. Therefore, it is important that the Legislature puts this in place to ensure that proposals which have a deep impact on our liberties are deliberative and have widespread support from our elected representatives." More here.

DFO: I believe this bill would hamstring the already tight-fisted Legislature from reacting responsibly to growing revenue needs for education, social services, corrections, and sundry other budget items.

Question: Do you think the Republican dominated Idaho Legislature already does a good job keeping the state budget in check?

Vick Wants To Bring Back 2/3s Tax Bill

Here's a link to Betsy Russell's full story at spokesman.com on the failure today of freshman North Idaho Sen. Steve Vick's proposed constitutional amendment to require two-thirds votes not only for any tax increase, but also for any fee hike or the removal or reduction of any tax break. The measure, HJR 1, actually got a bare majority - 37-33 - but not the required two-thirds. If he's re-elected, Vick said, “I do plan on bringing it back in the future.” More Eye On Boise here.

Question: Do you consider Senate District 3 Sen. Vick to be as radical as district mates Rep. Phil Hart and Rep. Vito Barbieri?

Vick’s 2/3s Vote Tax Bill Stalls

After much discussion and debate, the House State Affairs Committee has voted to hold off on passing HJR 1, Sen. Steve Vick's measure to amend the Idaho Constitution to require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate for any tax or fee increase; committee members want to work on amendments.  Several committee members, including Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, advocated doing away with the “net increase” wording Vick included in the measure/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Do you support a two-thirds vote requirement for the Idaho Legislature to pass bills that increase taxes?

House votes to suspend I-960

OLYMPIA – Debate over the need for supermajorities to raise taxes stretched into its second night Wednesday in the House of Representatives and invoked everything from the Gospel to the law of the jungle.

There were warnings about taking away the voice of the people, who passed the initiative by a 51 percent majority in 2007, and warnings about gutting programs that people need to educate their children or build their roads.

There were quotations from great minds, like Thomas Jefferson, who warned about big governments, the evangelist Mark, who started his Gospel with the admonition to repent, and Isoruku Yamamoto, the Japanese admiral who bemoaned waking the sleeping giant of the American people after bombing Pearl Harbor.

There was a dispute on whether it was easier to raise taxes and not do the hard work of reforming state government, or easier to cut the budget to avoid facing voters and explain the need for taxes.

In the end, the House voted 51-47 to do what everyone expected: suspend the two-thirds majority required to increase taxes through mid-2011, allowing majority Democrats to raise taxes to help fill a projected $2.8 billion budget gap. The Senate voted to suspend the initiative last week, but because the House changed some of the provisions, the bill must go back for a new vote in the other chamber..

Democrats in the House and the Senate have yet to release budget plans, but Gov. Chris Gregoire released her newest budget package Wednesday, and it has more than $600 million in tax increases, coupled with some $1 billion in cuts.

Most Republicans who took the floor Wednesday night to denounce the bill used up every second of their allotted 10 minutes for speeches. They talked repeatedly of the will of the people, who, Rep. Dan Roach said, “want it to be hard to raise taxes.”

But Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, said cutting state programs will further divide the “haves” from the “have nots” and harm the state as a whole.

“It’s not the rule of the jungle where the big dogs eat the little dogs,” Hasegawa said.

For a look at how they voted, go inside the blog

WA Lege: Deja vu. Senate Democrats suspend I-960

OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats were forced to hit the replay button Wednesday night and hold another debate on a bill to suspend voter imposed limits on tax increases.

That gave Republicans a chance to once again complain that they were thwarting the “will of the people” by setting aside requirements for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, place such increases on a November ballot for an advisory vote and issue financial projections on any bill that would affect state revenue.

It gave Democrats a chance to once again assert the state was in the worst financial times since the Great Depression and desperate times call for bold action.

In the end, the result was essentially the same. After more than about two hours of debate on various Republican amendments – all of them failed – and the suspension itself, the Senate voted 26-22 to suspend all of I-960 through the first half of next year. After that, all provisions for supermajority passage of tax increases, public advisory votes and fiscal notes would come back into law.

A Tuesday bill that merely suspended the supermajority provisions – although Democrats mistakenly thought it suspended the whole initiative – passed 26-23. The difference Wednesday: Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, was absent.

Between now and then, however, are this year’s session, which is mainly dedicated to fixing an estimated $2.6 billion gap between what the state is expected to collect in taxes and what it would need to pay out for the projects and services it now has.

Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a budget in December that would close that gap strictly by cutting state programs, jobs and services, but she has since said she wants to “buy back” some of those cuts with a combination of new federal money and tax increases.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Democrats will not bring an “all cuts” budget to the Senate floor because it would devastate too many programs for children, the sick and the elderly.

But that means tax increases, which Republicans generally oppose. Even if all Democrats were to vote on a tax increase their leaders proposed, they’d still be one vote shy of the two-thirds majority, and even within their ranks some members are unlikely to support some proposals.

They probably do have, however, a simple majority available for most increases currently being discussed.

For a breakdown of how the Senate voted, go inside the blog

Wrapup: I-960 suspension passes the Senate

OLYMPIA – The Legislature would be able to raise taxes this session and next with a simple majority vote under a bill approved Tuesday in the state Senate.

In the most contentious Senate debate this year – one that constantly invoked “the will of the people” and at one point became a showdown between grandmas in the chamber – Democrats suspended the need for a supermajority on tax increases imposed by voters in 2007.

Just hours after a 26-23 victory, however, they said they’d made a mistake and intended to suspend all the requirements of Initiative 960, including the need for statewide advisory votes on any tax they choose to raise. Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, the bill’s prime sponsor, said in an evening press release the majority party will bring up a new version to the Senate floor “as soon as possible … to suspend I-960 in full until July 2011.” (WEDS update: Senate Democrats expect to introduce a bill to “fix” that problem sometime today and suspend all of I-960 for that time period. No time table at this point but watch Spin Control for updates.)


To read the rest of this story, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 30: Debate continues

OLYMPIA — Arguing against changes to the state’s supermajority for tax increases continues, and some senators are attempting to usie t to their best advantage

“The citizens voted their conscience. Now we’re throwing that away. We’re ignoring the will of the people,” Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who recently announced he was running for the U.S. Senate, said while looking straight into the television camera. “Shouldn’t we ask the people who put it in place if they feel the current situation warrants gutting the protections they put in place?”

Turns out the camera wasn’t on, but a candidate running for higher office needs all the practice they can get

Luna: ‘It’s still a high bar’

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna says he’s always been an advocate of lowering the supermajority to pass school bonds, while also reducing the number of possible dates when bond elections can be held. The successful legislation this year to consolidate elections, which will reduce school bond votes to only four dates starting in 2011, just did half of that - and would therefore, on its own, make it tougher for Idaho school districts to build new schools. “I think you’ve raised the bar considerably,” Luna told Eye on Boise. “And I don’t think that was necessarily the intent of all of those who supported election consolidation - it sure wasn’t my expectation that we would stop with just election consolidation.”

Luna, who will propose a constitutional amendment to lawmakers in January to lower the supermajority from two-thirds to 60 percent, said, “I think it’s still a high bar the districts need to get over in order to pass local bonds and levies.” Election consolidation means “you’re going to see a lot more people show up at the polls,” he said. “I’m not predicting that it will mean that districts will have an easier time. Quite frankly, with more, quite possibly with seven or eight times more people showing up at the polls, 60 percent is still going to be a high bar to get over.”

He acknowledged that numerous past efforts to lower the supermajority have failed, but said they never had election consolidation already in place. “It’s not going to be an easy process - it’s not easy to change the constitution, it shouldn’t be easy,” he said. “But I think it’s a worthy cause. I think that people will see the value and the reasons for doing it. I think we’ll be successful.”

Luna calls for lowering supermajority

There was a time when then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne told a joint session of the Legislature, in his State of the State speech, that he wanted them to pass a constitutional amendment to lower the two-thirds supermajority now required to pass a school construction bond - and he wanted them to do it unanimously. It went nowhere. Now, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is taking on the issue, and told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that it’ll be the first piece of legislation he’ll propose next year - to lower the supermajority from two-thirds to 60 percent. Lawmakers already passed legislation this year to limit school bond elections to just four dates per year, as part of sweeping election consolidation legislation, rather than letting them be scheduled on any date. Constitutional amendments need two-thirds approval in each house of the Legislature, plus majority approval from voters at the next general election to pass. Click below to read the full report from the AP.