King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller today declared unconstitutional Initiative 1053, which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass any tax increases.
The court held that the Washington Constitution establishes the exclusive rules for determining whether passage of a law requires a simple majority or super majority vote. Those rules cannot be altered by the legislature passing a law or by the people enacting an initiative. The court noted that the Washington Constitution established super majority requirements for a number of types of laws, but not for tax increases.
The lawsuit was brought by a broad coalition, including the League of Education Voters, the Washington Education Association, parents, teachers and school administrators, and state legislators.
“The Constitution establishes the fundamental rules for how our governmental works,” said Paul Lawrence of the Pacifica Law Group, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The framers considered what types of laws require a super majority vote for passage. Taxes were not identified as requiring a super majority vote. Fundamental changes in how the government operates have to be accomplished by constitutional amendment, not by passage of a law or initiative.”
The two-thirds restriction hinders the ability of the state to fund public education. “This lawsuit is another important piece in making sure our kids have all the resources they need to get an excellent education,” Chris Korsmo, chief executive officer of LEV, said. “LEV was founded on the principle that our kids deserve fully funded schools.”
“This decision is a victory for the children of Washington state,” said Mary Lindquist, WEA president. “If it is upheld, this ruling will pave the way for the Legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools as mandated by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and the state Constitution. We hope it will be settled soon. Our kids can’t wait any longer.”
Legislators who joined as plaintiffs expressed similar hope that the case will allow the state to meet its constitutional obligation to fund public education.
Rep. Jamie Pedersen of the 43rd Legislative District said: “I am thrilled that the court reached the merits of this question and recognized that Tim Eyman’s initiatives requiring supermajority votes to raise revenue are unconstitutional and are hampering our ability to fund public schools. I feel hopeful that the Supreme Court – fresh off of its decision that the legislature is failing to fund education adequately – will give us back the tools to do so.”
Rep. Chris Reykdal of the 22nd Legislative District echoed that that sentiment: “Our treasured initiative process can clearly amend state law or advocate new laws, but it cannot amend the Constitution. We all have to play by the same rules. We look forward to the state Supreme Court upholding this decision on appeal by the state. We have a court mandated obligation to fund basic education, and this decision restores the Legislature's ability to do that with majority rule."
State Sen. David Frockt of the 46th Legislative District noted: “There are critical policy implications to this ruling. I have been appointed to serve on the education funding committee that has been established in response to the McCleary decision. If this ruling is upheld, as I hope it will be, I believe we will have a better shot at fulfilling our paramount duty to fully fund our educational system in the coming years.”
Rep. Laurie Jinkins of the 27th Legislative District said: "As prime sponsor of the bill that initiated this suit, I'm overjoyed to see that the court ruled in our favor on every substantive point. I was outraged when I realized that I-1053 required a a two-thirds vote of the legislature to close our most egregious tax breaks. Instead of funding our best hope for future, our public schools, we were funding tax breaks for big Wall Street banks."
Lawrence expects the state to appeal the decision directly to the Washington Supreme Court. He plans to ask for expedited review so that a decision can be rendered before the start of the 2013 legislative session.