Right wing think tank WPC pushes for state constitutional amendment about super-majority requirements

This website has published a series of articles challenging the constitutionality of I-1053, the voter initiative that imposes a 2/3 super-majority requirement on the legislature to raise taxes or eliminate tax breaks. See I-1053 is apparently unconstitutional, How our legislators should deal with I-1053 and the references therein.

The issue of the constitutionality of I-1053 has now come up in right wing media in Washington State.

As background, according to SECTION 22 PASSAGE OF BILLS of the Washington State Constitution, “No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.” (emphasis added)

Several Democratic legislative district organizations and the King County Democratic Committee have passed resolutions calling on legislators to disregard I-1053 in view of its apparent unconstitutionality. See Resolution on ending tax breaks.  Meanwhile, a Poll shows strong support for repealing WA tax breaks to fund Basic Health.

Washington Policy Center is a conservative think tank with offices in Seattle, Olympia, Spokane, and the Tri-Cities. They support anti-tax, small government policies and have been allies with Tim Eyman on I-1053 and other initiatives.

Jason Mercier, the director of the Center for Government Reform at WPC, recently published an article Supermajority voting is a basic part of Washington state’s democracy which has two aims. First, it lists examples from the Washington State Constitution in which super-majority votes are required for the legislature to take certain actions. Consequently, according to Mercier, super-majority requirements are not undemocratic.

Mercier asks, “Is Washington’s state constitution undemocratic? Some opponents of supermajority vote requirements seem to think so.”

But the issue isn’t whether super-majority requirements are undemocratic in general. The issue is whether the specific super-majority requirements in I-1053 and similar initiatives are constitutional.  For normal bills, a majority of legislators suffices.  And the state constitution also says you can’t amend the constitution by mere citizen initiative (Article XXIII, Amendments).

The second aim of Mecier’s article is to raise the option of amending Washington State’s constitution, to settle once and for all the matter of super-majority requirements such as I-1053’s. Mercier writes, “One way to resolve the ongoing debate over whether voters truly want lawmakers to be restricted by the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases is for the legislature to refer the question to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment. ”

The question of the constitutionality has been brought before the State Supreme Court by Senate President Brad Owen, but the Court refused to rule on the issue.

The fact that the constitution explicitly calls out actions requiring super-majority votes suggests that by default a majority vote suffices, as specified in Section 2 above.

The final determination of the constitutionality of I-1053 belongs to the State Supreme Court.

I-1053 was approved by 64% of voters.   There is a two-thirds super-majority requirement for amending the Constitution.

Will two thirds of voters vote against their own self-interest and amend the constitution?

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