Supermajority Amendment "Or Else" Unconstitutional in Washington State


| | Bookmark and Share

The Washington State Supreme Court last week unanimously declared unconstitutional an initiative designed to force lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment requiring supermajority support for all future revenue increases.

The initiative, I-1366, is the latest of Tim Eyman’s efforts to enact a supermajority requirement for tax increases in the state. (Eyman is an anti-tax activist who has spearheaded numerous initiatives in Washington state.) The measure essentially would have held revenue from the state’s sales tax hostage by requiring lawmakers to propose a constitutional amendment requiring supermajority approval for any future tax increase or face an automatic cut in the sales tax from 6.5 to 5.5 percent. 

I-1366’s supermajority requirement effectively granted veto power to a minority of lawmakers (17 out of1 147 state legislators in this case) and restricted legislators’ ability to raise needed state revenues. This would have left the state with losses of $2.8 billion each budget cycle, depriving the state of needed resources at a time it is already struggling to fund essential human services and meet constitutional requirements for public education.

The court ruled I-1366 unconstitutional on the basis of the “single-subject rule,” which seeks to prevent logrolling or pairing together unrelated proposals that independently wouldn’t receive majority support. Under this standard, the joint proposals of I-1366 to reduce the sales tax, require the legislature to propose a constitutional amendment, and change the way future taxes and fees are approved, didn’t pass constitutional muster. The court also spelled out very clearly that initiatives that give an ultimatum of a drastic or undesirable outcome if a specific constitutional amendment isn’t proposed by the legislature run afoul of the process for amending the constitution.

This is not the first time a supermajority requirement by initiative in Washington has been declared unconstitutional, and whether it will be the last remains to be seen. The Seattle Times editorial board recently expressed, “[i]nstead of continually outsourcing tax-policy changes to Eyman, which are struck down again and again, the Legislature needs to address the laws in the tax code head-on.”

We couldn’t agree more. With this ruling, lawmakers can and should act to fulfill their responsibilities of raising equitable and sustainable revenue for the state.

Thank you for visiting Tax Justice Blog. CTJ and ITEP staff will soon retire this domain. But ITEP staff are still blogging! You can find the same level of insight and analysis and select Tax Justice Blog archives at our new blog, http://www.justtaxesblog.org/

Sign Up for Email Digest

CTJ Social Media


ITEP Social Media


Categories