Supermajority Amendment "Or Else" Unconstitutional in Washington State

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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.

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