How our legislators should deal with I-1053

There’s a straightforward way for our state legislators to work around Eyman’s I-1053, an initiative that conflicts with several provisions of the state constitution. Will they pursue it?

On Feb 29, 2008,  Senate Bill 6931 was brought before the Washington State Senate for a vote.  SB 6931 would have imposed a 42¢ per liter surcharge on the sale of certain types of liquor to fund driving-under-the-influence patrols and chemical dependency treatments.

Lt. Governor (and Senate President) Brad Owen  refused to allow the bill to go forward.  Owen ruled that SB 6931 required the approval of two-thirds of the senate for passage, by virtue of Tim Eyman’s so-called Taxpayer Protection Act.

In response to Mr. Owen’s ruling, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown asked the state Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus to force Mr. Owen to allow the bill to proceed.

The state Supreme Court’s decision was not to issue a writ of mandamus. (See Brown v. Owen (2009) .)    Whether one agrees with the reasoning in the decision or not, a remedy for the ruling by Owen in favor of a 2/3 vote is also stated there:

¶ 27 Both Owen, as president of the senate, and Brown as a member of that body are subject to the procedural rules of the senate.   Owen was required to rule on the point of order by Sheldon, and Brown was allowed to address the senate in opposition to the point of order.   Owen gave a parliamentary ruling as is his obligation as president of the senate.   Brown had the option to appeal to her colleagues and overturn Owen’s ruling with a simple majority of the senate.   She did not. Instead, Brown asked this court to intervene by ordering Owen to forward a bill, that pursuant to Owen’s unchallenged parliamentary ruling, failed to receive sufficient votes for passage.

In other words, Senator Brown and the legislators had the opportunity themselves to overturn Owen’s ruling with a simple majority vote.

Similarly, Democratic legislators in Olympia now have the opportunity, and the obligation, to eliminate tax exemptions for wealthy corporations and individuals by majority vote, despite I-1053’s 2/3 supermajority requirement for raising revenue. The reason is simple: I-1053 is apparently  unconstitutional.

According to Article 2, Legislative Department, Section 22 Passage of Bills  “No bill shall become a law unless  . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.”  The state constitution also says that the constitution cannot be amended by initiative.

What was at issue then, as now, is majority rule.  The same remedy is available to the Senate today.  They can overturn by a simple majority a ruling by Owen that a 2/3 vote is required for passage of revenue bills.

Constitutions exist precisely to protect the People from unjust and deceptive initiatives such as I-1053. The reason we don’t have direct democracy (where the voters vote for legislation without relying on elected representatives in Congress) is that most people lack the time and inclination to understand the issues well enough to vote intelligently on complex legislation.  Furthermore, voters are easily deceived  and can be tricked into voting for unjust initiatives, such as I-1053, that are against their own self-interest.

I-1053 perpetuates an unjust and regressive tax system. It is causing devastating cuts to education, social services, and public safety.

See also Resolution on ending taxbreaks for billionaires and  I-1053 is apparently unconstitutional.

Will the Democrats defend the constitution, which cannot be amended by any initiative, and go on to  produce the kind of budget that  Washingtonians want and need?

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