Once again, Washington voters face a proposal that an increase in state taxes requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature or a simple majority vote of the people. That is Initiative 1185.
Whenever the two-thirds rule is on the ballot, there is an outcry that it is unfair to legislators. The people elected them, so shouldn’t legislators have a free hand? The people did elect them, but they don’t trust them with a free hand on taxes.
Voters have approved a two-thirds-for-taxes proposal four times before — in 1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010 — and the imposed discipline kept most of their taxes from going up. For the same reason, voters should approve it again.
Any ballot measure may be swept aside by a simple majority of the Legislature after two years. Legislators did that early in 2010when they suspended the two-thirds-for-taxes initiative passed in 2007. Next year, legislators could do the same thing with the initiative passed in November 2010. I-1185 gives two more years.
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Lawmakers can meet the higher bar when warranted. This year, a tax increase on large multistate banks received two-thirds approval.
Initiative 1185 also forbids legislators from delegating to unelected officials the power to raise fees. Fee increases require a majority vote of legislators.
The 2007 measure said if legislators pass a tax increase, the next November’s Voter’s Pamphlet will list how each legislator voted on it. The ballot will ask the people what they think of the tax increase. The result is not binding, but it does remind voters what was done and who did it. (Two such votes are on the ballot this year, one closing a tax break on banks and one extending a tax on petroleum products. Voters should approve both.)
A legal note: The Washington Supreme Court is now considering a constitutional challenge to the initiative passed in 2010. The court is likely to rule after the election.
Meanwhile, Initiative 1185 gives the people the chance to tell the court, the Legislature and the next governor they want the two-thirds rule to stay.