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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Olympia

Tax showdown in the Temple of Justice…

(and yes, the state Supreme Court's office building is really called the Temple of Justice.)

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown is doing something that would make many a politician squirm: going to court to make it easier to raise taxes.

A 15-year-old law declaring that a tax increase requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature is unconstitutional, she argues. Her fast-track lawsuit will be heard by the state Supreme Court on Sept. 9.

Defenders of the two-thirds requirement – including national anti-tax groups, small businesses and farmers – say Brown's setting the state up for big tax increases.

Others call the lawsuit an act of political courage.

"Lisa, when she fundamentally feels that something's the right thing to do, she's willing to go out on a limb a little bit," said Marilyn Watkins, acting executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute. "Leaders have to be willing to take risks."

Politically, the lawsuit's probably of little risk to Brown. She's one of the state's most powerful lawmakers, has been in the Legislature since the early 1990s and is sitting on about $140,000 in campaign cash. She got 77 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary.

But the case has drawn flak for months. "Why are you displaying such an arrogant elitist's attitude?" wrote Gary Lollis, of Mukilteo. "You work for the people of the state of Washington, not the Senate in Olympia. Remember where you came from."

Gov. Chris Gregoire, locked in a close race for re-election, has repeatedly declined to say if she supports Brown's case. She says she's not familiar with the specifics.

"I know that everybody thinks that's surprising. I have not studied it," Gregoire said in a recent interview.

The flak was no surprise, Brown said. But after 15 years in Olympia, watching lawmakers struggle to balance a budget in an up-and-down economy, she said, it just seemed like time to clarify the law. In a representative democracy there's a careful balance of powers, she said, and the two-thirds requirement threatens that.

The stage was set six months ago on a drizzly Friday in Olympia.

Short takes and breaking news from the Washington Legislature and the state capital.