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Seattle judge overturns two-thirds vote for tax increases

May 30, 2012

In overturning Washington state’s voter-approved two-thirds majority for raising taxes, a King County judge may have inadvertently bolstered the latest efforts of those who’ve spent years introducing — and reintroducing — similar legislation.

Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller on Wednesday ended three months of deliberation by ruling that requiring a super majority for the Legislature to approve tax increases — as Washington voters have done four times dating back to 1993 — is unconstitutional.

Heller said the state constitution mandates that legislation must be passed by a simple majority, and that requirement can’t be superseded by a ballot initiative.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna said the state would appeal the verdict. The suit was brought by a dozen state lawmakers, the state teacher’s union and self-appointed education advocates.

“This restriction applies to statutes initiated by the Legislature and to states passed pursuant to voter initiatives,” Heller wrote.

Initiatives give the people power to legislate, he added, but that power is “subject to mandates of the Constitution.”

The voter approved law is unconstitutional on a separate basis, Heller wrote. It sends tax increases directly to the ballot, bypassing a requirement in the Constitution that a referendum on laws passed by the Legislature collect signatures from 4 percent of the state’s voters before being put to a popular vote.

Meanwhile, Mukilteo initiative promoter Tim Eyman is busily gathering signatures for Initiative 1185, which once again seeks to impose a permanent two-thirds vote requirement for all tax increases in Washington state.

“Four times the voters have approved initiatives making it tougher to raise,” Eyman said. “Three times the state Supreme Court has decided to leave it to the Legislature and to the people to set the rules for raising taxes.

“Today a King County judge decided otherwise, contradicting various High Court rulings,” he added. “The Attorney General’s team made — very persuasively — the exact same legal arguments that earned a unanimous 9-0 ruling in 2009. But this particular judge chose to ignore those same arguments and disregard that previous ruling.”

Heller’s decision, a summary judgment sought by opponents of the two-thirds majority requirement, sets up a showdown in the state Supreme Court – which has heretofore left the question up to the voters and the Legislature.

“Is it any wonder that opponents chose to file their case before a Seattle judge?” Eyman asked. “Thank goodness the Attorney General will appeal.”

Rather than discouraging initiative supporters, Eyman believes the judge’s over-reach will actually galvanize support.

“Today’s ruling throws gasoline on the fire of enthusiasm for Initiative 1185,” he said. “It’s now more important than ever for I-1185′s qualification for the ballot on July 6 and its passage on Nov. 6. When the voters demand a policy and approve it again and again and again, it will be next to impossible for the new governor and new Legislature to not abide by the voters’ clear will.”

If adopted, I-1185 would represent the two-thirds requirement for tax increases going five for five with voters at the ballot box over the past 19 years.

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