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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

WaLeg Day 33: Senate turns down tax supermajority amendment

OLYMPIA -- A constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds supermajority for tax increases comes up for a vote on the Senate floor this morning.

Expect some highly charged political speeches. Also some creative amendments to the amendment.

But the process requires any constitutional amendment receive that same two-thirds majority from both chambers of the Legislature. A smart gambler would not bet the rent on it getting that when the final vote is recorded.

Here's the latest:

11: 55 a.m. Proposed constitutional amendment on tax increases fails on a 26-23 vote. It needed a two-thirds supermajority of 33 yes votes to send the supermajority for taxes amendment proposal to the House.

11:45 a.m. Carlyle, saying he's closing debate for opponents of the proposal, says America's Founding Fathers rejected supermajorities for policy issues because it was part of the Articles of Confederation. "We empower a minority of 17 of 147 to have veto power."

Roach counters that the proposal merely allows voters to decide. "They don't have to, they could say no." But based on previous elections, that's unlikely. The debate has been good, she adds, but no one's opinion has changed.\

Votes being counted.

11:30 a.m. Senate takes a break from debate after two and a half hours on the floor. Closing arguments coming soon.

11:15 a.m. Debate continues, with Sen. Bob Hasegawa arguing thFounding Fathers considered supermajorities for the Legislature to pass policies, but decided that meant a minority of one-third could block anything. They "settled on the fact that we're a representative government."

Sen. Brian Dansel counters that opponents of the proposal seem to forget the United States was started over taxes. His northeast Washington district is the poorest in the state and his voters regularly pass the tax increase supermajority with large margins.

Sen. Don Benton notes that Democrats had large majorities in both chambers in 2010, and controlled the governor's office. They could have repealed all the tax exemptions they didn't like back then. "How many tax incentives were repealed? Zero. None."

10:35 a.m. Debate on the actual amendment starts. Roach says supporters are "speaking on behalf of the majority of the people of the state of Washington" recounts the history of supermajority initiatives over 23 years.

Sen. Kevin Ranker says the initiative has a hidden language that "would institutionalize corporate loopholes.

Sen. Mark Schoesler counters that some small businesses are corporations, and they're being portrayed as evil even though "they get the heck taxed out of them." The Senate has passed important tax increases with that two-thirds supermajority when the two parties work together, he adds, including last year's transportation package that raises the gasoline tax by 11.9 cents.

Sen Jim Hargrove says that the transportation package did not pass by a two-thirds supermajority in the House, so under the proposed constitutional amendment it would have failed. The initiative that proposed the amendment had other things in it, he added, including a 1 cent per dollar reduction in the sales tax. Some may have voted yes to lower that regressive tax.

Sen Mike Baumgartner  argues the initiative is about good government and accountability. Senators tend to be against corporate loopholes except when they can take credit for them. "Take some responsibility and drop hypocrisy and take back some credibility and give the people what they want." 

10:34 a.m. Carlyle proposes putting a 10-year-limit on the constitutional amendment. Roach urges Senate to "give the people a break here" after working for years of passing multiple initiatives on the topic. Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, says the voters are smart and know what they're doing. Keiser says the amendment should be renamed the "Perpetual Corporate Loophole Protection Act." Baumgartner asks if Carlyle would vote for the supermajority if the 10-year limit was included; Carlyle says no.

Amendment fails on voice vote.

10: 27 a.m. Sen. David Frockt offers an amendment that the Legislature could close tax exemptions with a simple majority if the money goes to public schools, describing it as changing the law with "a wrench that goes both ways" and a "relief valve". Roach counters with same argument. 

"This is just completely not what the people put before us," Roach said. "not to tinker and mess around with it."

Countered Frockt: "We tinker with initiatives all the time."

Not this time, however. Frockt amendment fails 23-26.

"The amendment is not adopted," Lt. Gov. Brad Owen rules.

"Shocking," Frockt says.

10:15 a.m. Sen. Karen Keiser offers an amendment that the supermajority would not apply to closing any tax exemption involving services for veterans. Sen. Pam Roach makes the same argument. Change goes down by the same 23-26.

10:10 a.m An amendment by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, would add a requirement to the amendment that any tax exemption must reveal who .benefits and by how.. Sen. Pam Roach, the sponsor of the constitutional amendment, argued it "compounds the very straight-forward issue that's before us and is not part of the people's inititiative." It's a theme that's likely to be used for other amendments.

It fails 23-26.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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