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WA Supreme Court Redefines "Majority"

PHOTO: A two-thirds majority vote makes it almost impossible for the Washington Legislature to raise taxes or close tax loopholes, but the state Supreme Court now says the "super-majority" isn't constitutional. Flag courtesy 50states.com.
PHOTO: A two-thirds majority vote makes it almost impossible for the Washington Legislature to raise taxes or close tax loopholes, but the state Supreme Court now says the "super-majority" isn't constitutional. Flag courtesy 50states.com.
March 1, 2013

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It has taken a two-thirds majority in the Washington Legislature to pass any type of tax increase – but a majority of state Supreme Court justices ruled on Thursday that the so-called "super-majority" requirement is unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote the majority opinion, saying the Washington Constitution's plain language requires only a simple majority on tax votes.

Kim Abel, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Washington, says in the annual tug-of-war to balance the state budget, lawmakers have had their options limited by the super-majority requirement.

"It will allow our elected legislators to do their jobs,” she says. “Without the ability to think that taxes might play a role in that, in order to balance the budget each year, they can't do that job as they are required to do."

The League of Women Voters filed an amicus brief in the court case in support of the change. The League of Education Voters brought the case to try to make it easier for the state to find ways to fund schools.

The Supreme Court vote was 6 to 3. The dissenters said the court doesn't have any business wading into politics when Washington voters have repeatedly upheld the super-majority idea.

Gov. Jay Inslee said the super-majority requirement has given a legislative minority "the power to squelch ideas even when those ideas had majority support."

Kim Abel doesn't think scratching the requirement will mean things will run any more smoothly at the State Capitol, but it could give lawmakers more room to negotiate.

"We expect so much of our governments,” she says, “from clean air to breathe to great schools, to roads that work to get products to market. We want to give our legislators the ability to figure out ways to do all those things that we have come to depend on."

The debate isn't over. In the legislature, there's already a Senate Joint Resolution (SJR 8200) that would change the state Constitution to include the two-thirds super-majority requirement to raise revenue.


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA