(Alternative headline for those with a legislative attention deficit: Court's slow pace means booze to remain 42 cents cheaper!)
Despite a request to rush arguments and a ruling out before lawmakers pack up their coffeemakers and head home March 13th, the state Supreme Court today turned down the request. The court also wouldn't commit to getting a decision out by the time the next legislative session starts in January 2009.
In the short term, the decision almost certainly means the death of the bill that triggered the court challenge: renewing a lapsed 42-cents-a-liter liquor tax. The resulting $10 million would have paid for more drunken-driving enforcement and substance-abuse treatment.
The court challenge is much broader than that, of course. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, is challenging a longstanding law that says legislators must get a two-thirds "yes" vote in order to pass a tax increase.
After years of (both parties) finding ways around this requirement, last year's Initiative 960 reaffirmed it. Now, legislative budget writers face the prospect of being hamstrung next year, on the eve of an expected $2.4 billion state budget deficit.
Supreme Court Clerk Ronald Carpenter said the court commissioner will decide how -- and if -- to proceed with the case on April 17th.
UPDATE: No worries, says Brown, who called it good news. The reason she aksed for an accelerated schedule, she said, was to avoid a replay of a scenario from 1994, when the high court threw out a similar challenge because the Legislature wasn't in session at the time.
This time, she noted, the suit has been put on the court's regular docket.
"This means we won't get a snap decision, and it means the matter won't be declared moot just because the Legislature may not be in session when the Court finally does take up the case," she said in a written statement released a few minutes ago by her office.
"I'm pleased the Court will hear the case thoroughly and completely," she said. "We are on track and moving forward."