March 3 Daily News editorial
The Washington Supreme Court this week ruled Thursday that supermajority requirements violate the state constitution. The ruling was decisive and ironic, in that the 6-3 vote itself constituted a supermajority.
We tend not to argue points of law with Supreme Court justices, but do note that state voters on five occasions over the last 20 years have approved ballot initiatives mandating two-thirds supermajorities in both Legislative houses for approval of any tax increase.
We also note that Article 1, Section 1 of the constitution begins with the sentence: “All political power is inherent in the people” and wonder if this broader principle isn’t being thwarted here.
If nothing else, however, the Supreme Court ruling provides the “clear direction” supermajority proponents say they’ve been seeking and gets state voters off what’s turned into a hamster wheel — a never-ending, closed-circle process of voting to approve supermajority initiatives and then having them set aside by the Legislature at the first convenient opportunity, necessitating their re-introduction and re-passage.
For supermajority fans, a constitutional amendment now becomes Options A through Z — and it’s a larger hurdle than merely asking the voters if they want to make it tougher for their elected representatives to raise taxes.
Amendments must generate two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate for approval before being presented to the electorate, which can approve them with a simple majority.
The current makeup of the Legislature, of course, makes it highly unlikely that any but the most non-controversial bills would command a two-thirds majority in either house.
A drive toward an amendment would, however, place some heat on Legislators — most of them Democrats — who’ve been opposing two-thirds in Olympia while their constituencies have been supporting it back home. All three 19th District Democrats — Sen. Brian Hatfield and Reps. Dean Takko and Brian Blake — would fall into this category.
But they’ll hardly be alone. The most recent two-thirds initiative, No. 1185, drew majority support in every Washington county and in 44 of the 49 legislative districts when it appeared on the ballot last November. The only five districts where “no” votes carried the day were within the Seattle city limits.
Even so, statewide popular support for I-1185 stood at 64 percent, a ringing endorsement but still somewhat shy of two-thirds threshold demanded as the new definition of a “mandate.”
Although legislative conservatives insisted they were optimistic they’d be celebrating after Thursday’s ruling, we think many knew what was coming. When Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna visited The Daily News last summer, he allowed that a constitutional amendment might be needed for ultimate approval of supermajority requirements.
McKenna was the state’s attorney general at the time.
Two-thirds majorities, whether among legislators or voters, aren’t easily assembled or preserved. Whichever side of this issue you happen to be on, that’s a fact of political life.