Some Balls Under Those Robes
The Supreme Court Ends Our State's Unconstitutional Nightmare
A law requiring a two-thirds majority of the legislature to pass any tax increase, or even close a tax loophole, is dead. Good fucking riddance.
Nearly two decades after the supermajority provisions were first enacted into law via 1993's Initiative 601, and thrice renewed by initiative huckster Tim Eyman, the Washington State Supreme Court finally untied its ball sack and mustered up a ruling on the underlying issue. Three times before, the court had weaseled out of overturning this voter-approved requirement, rejecting cases as "nonjusticiable" because either the challengers lacked standing, or the issue wasn't ripe, or some other legalistic bullshit. But in a landmark 6–3 opinion issued February 28, the court finally did its job and pronounced what every unbiased reader with nominal command of the English language already knew to be true.
"Article II, section 22 states that 'No bill shall become a law unless... a majority of the members elected to each house' vote in its favor," the majority explained in its opinion, before concluding, "The plain language, constitutional history, and weight of persuasive authority support reading this provision as setting both a minimum and a maximum voting requirement."
No shit, Sherlock: A "majority" is 50 percent plus one vote, not two-thirds.
Within hours of the court ruling, senate Republicans had pushed a two-thirds supermajority constitutional amendment through committee. But fat chance it will ever seeing the light of day in the house.
"It has to go through the house Finance Committee," explains Representative Reuven Carlyle. "I happen to know the chair pretty well, and I would say it's a heavy lift." Carlyle, of course, is the chair of the house Finance Committee. So that's pretty much that.
And that's the thing about supermajority requirements: They're supposed to be an awfully high hurdle. The framers of our state constitution understood that when they imposed a supermajority on some things—like passing constitutional amendments—while setting simple majority requirements for passing day-to-day legislation. For if you could amend the constitution by a simple majority, then it really wouldn't be a constitution at all.
As for the ability of state government to deliver the services and infrastructure we need, the court decision means nothing and everything. Nothing, because the Republican- controlled senate has the simple majority needed to block any substantive tax increase. But everything, because lawmakers from both parties can no longer use the two-thirds requirement as a convenient excuse for avoiding even a conversation about revenue.
Revenue is back on the table in Olympia. And while it may not amount to much in the short term, it at least offers the hope that lawmakers will eventually muddle their way out of our perpetual budget crisis.