By Reps. Christopher Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist
One of the defining characteristics of Washington’s state government is the opportunity for everyday voters to have their voices heard through the initiative process. It helps keep legislators accountable and reinforces our nation’s history of active citizen participation in all levels of government.
While some legislators have pushed back on Washington’s initiative process, on Feb. 28 this process came under new fire from the Washington Supreme Court.
After staying out of the political debate for almost 20 years, our Supreme Court stepped in and struck down the voter-approved requirement that tax increases receive a two-thirds vote to pass the Legislature. In deciding this requirement is unconstitutional, the justices ignored the repeated demands of Washington’s voters that the bar be set higher when it comes to taking money from our pocketbooks.
More than simply deciding on the constitutionality of the issue though, the Supreme Court justices took a blatant, unwarranted and political swing at the decision made by voters to keep the scope of our government limited.
The six justices in the majority opinion claim the supermajority requirement “is antithetical to the notion of a functioning government and should be rejected as such.” In doing so, they seem eager to disregard the notion that the functions of government are the responsibility of the Legislature, the governor and the people by means of the initiative process – not the judicial branch.
Further, they argue the two-thirds rule to raise taxes constituted a “tyrannical minority” imposing their will over the majority. The language wades deep into political waters, which the courts are supposed to float above. Even more disconcerting was the true tyranny of the minority on display when these six individuals overruled a 1.9 million strong majority of Washingtonians who supported Initiative 1185.
Washington residents have repeatedly reaffirmed that tax increases should only pass with support of two-thirds of legislators or a public vote. We strongly support this principle.
The Supreme Court has ruled – in spite of a clear directive from the people – that the two-thirds requirement for taxes is unconstitutional. But the fight is not over.
We are sponsoring legislation, House Joint Resolution 4206, that would place the two-thirds requirement to raise taxes in our state constitution. This will ensure our government respects the repeated instructions of voters and finally puts the issue to rest.
Passing this constitutional amendment will be a challenge. It must pass both the House and Senate before going to the ballot box where voters must also approve it. The voters have been clear on this issue before and we are sure that they will respond just as loudly and definitively if they are given the opportunity to amend the constitution.
This should not be a difficult decision. Initiative 1185 passed in every county and 44 of 49 legislative districts. Voters in the 31st Legislative District, to whom we answer, passed Initiative 1185 with 73 percent support. If every senator and representative was true to his or her district, amending the constitution to include the two-thirds requirement for tax increases would pass near-unanimously. Just as they have in the past, however, we expect a number of interest groups will fight our efforts to pass this amendment.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled against the majority of Washingtonians, but as legislators it is our responsibility to represent our voters. A constitutional amendment is now the only way forward.
State Rep. Christopher Hurst, Independent Democrat, is chairman of the Government Accountability
and Oversight Committee. He has served in the Legislature for 10 years. Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, is the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee. She is serving her second term as state representative.