But from the response of those like Tim Eyman and others who want to limit the state legislature’s taxing authority, you would think some crime had been committed by King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller.
Heller ruled recently that I-1053, which requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in the Legislature to increase taxes, was unconstitutional. He said the state constitution requires only a simple majority for passing legislation, and that it cannot be amended by initiatives or statutes.
Instead of disparaging a thoughtful judicial ruling, all sides should be glad the state Supreme Count will finally have the opportunity to rule on this important issue. The question of a two-thirds tax rule was headed to the high court eventually, so it’s better to settle the constitutionality sooner rather than later.
The Supreme Court should hear the matter directly and not wait for an appeals court ruling that would only delay its inevitable arrival at the Temple of Justice.
The more interesting immediate question is whether the justices will stay the superior court ruling until they have heard the matter. That could affect Eyman’s new two-thirds vote initiative, I-1185, for which he is now collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
It would, of course, have a direct and major effect on the 2013 legislative session if the court doesn’t rule on the matter until next year, though we’re confident of a decision before year’s end.
There is no denying that voters have clearly spoken in favor of a two-thirds rule. Initiatives 601, 960 and the more recent 1053 received strong support at the polls. But the will of the people does not supersede the state Constitution.
The people can amend the Constitution, of course. It’s been done 104 times in Washington state’s history. That requires a two-thirds vote by both the House and the Senate, and then a simple majority of voters.
Critics of the superior court ruling have warned anti-supermajority supporters to be careful what they wish for: Constitutional amendments tend to become permanent, while initiatives are more temporary. The legislature can eliminate laws enacted by initiative with a simple majority vote after two years.
But that’s no good reason to look the other way on a law that may or not be lawful under our Constitution.
We need the Supreme Court to give us the answer to this question, which they have not considered before in either Walker v. Munro in 1994, or in Brown v. Owen in 2009. Those cases addressed entirely different matters.
Democrats Rep. Chris Reykdal and Rep. Sam Hunt, of the 22nd Legislative District, joined in the lawsuit that gave rise to the King County Superior Court ruling, and are both running unopposed for re-election this fall.
Reykdal has said, “Our treasured initiative process can clearly amend state law or advocate new laws, but it cannot amend the Constitution. We all have to play by the same rules. We look forward to the state Supreme Court upholding this decision on appeal by the state.”
Republican Gary Alexander has said, “We’re very pleased to hear that Attorney General Rob McKenna will be appealing this case to the state Supreme Court. We trust that the voice of the voters will be heard and the rights of the people will be upheld by the higher court.”
We urge the high court to take this case directly and expediate its hearing, and thereby end years of bickering wrought from uncertainty for lawmakers, initiative makers and voters.