If the people of Washington passed a ballot measure declaring that all tax bills had to be signed by Santa Claus, would that be constitutional? On Tuesday this was a question from Justice Tom Chambers at the Washington Supreme Court.
The question was a reference to Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053, which says all tax bills require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a vote of the people. The measure, passed in 2010 by 64 percent of the voters, is being challenged in League of Education Voters v. State.
The league argues that the two-thirds requirement violates Article 2, Section 22, of the state constitution, which says “no bill shall become a law” without majorities of both houses of the Legislature.
Note the wording. It doesn’t say a bill becomes law with majorities. It says no bill becomes law without majorities. So if voters want to pass a law raising the threshold to two-thirds, it is still true that no bill becomes law without a majority of both houses. Therefore, a two-thirds law does not violate the constitution.
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And the legislators have to follow state law the same as everyone else, unless they change it.
So argued Attorney General Rob McKenna in court papers, and we believe he is correct. (As a Republican candidate for governor, he supports the two-thirds law. His Democratic opponent, Jay Inslee, does not.)
To answer Justice Chambers’ question of whether the people could demand the signature of Santa Claus: Suppose they did. It would be a demand for no new taxes at all.
In the first two years of an initiative, the Legislature can amend or erase it by two-thirds votes of both houses, and after that, by simple majorities. So under the initiative power, a two-thirds law is the highest bar the people can set against the Legislature’s will, and that for only two years.
Clearly the people want to set that bar. On no matter of public policy, except perhaps the income tax, have the voters of Washington been any clearer. In a few weeks, they will very likely pass Initiative 1185, resetting the two-thirds bar for another two years.
The success of that measure should be noted by the court.