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Transportation package (bonds) required supermajority vote

Published:2015-10-21 Opinion
Transportation package (bonds) required supermajority vote    Print Snohomish Times    
Transportation package (bonds) required supermajority vote

By Jason Mercier
Despite receiving support from voters on five separate occasions, most recently passing statewide in every county, in 90% of legislative districts, and with 64% support in 2012, lawmakers have yet to provide voters the opportunity to place a supermajority vote restriction for taxes in the state constitution.
As a result we are having this debate yet again with I-1366. Though we have concerns about that ballot measure (details here), whether to require a supermajority vote of lawmakers or a simple majority vote of the people to raise taxes isn't one of them.
Those arguing against following the will of the voters on this repeatedly approved tax restriction policy have said that the recent major transportation package would not have occurred if a supermajority vote was required. They point to the fact that the gas-tax bill passed with a simple majority vote. While that is true, the bond bill required to fund the projects over time did require a supermajority vote as required by the constitution. Since the bonds were a necessary part of the transportation package it is fair to say that a supermajority vote was required and achieved.
A supermajority vote requirement is not anti-democratic, as some critics claim. There are nearly two-dozen supermajority requirements currently in the Washington state constitution. These provisions have been placed there to require a higher vote threshold for certain government actions.
These restrictions are policy choices. Requiring a supermajority vote to increase the financial burden the state places on its citizens is no more undemocratic than the many other supermajority requirements that are already part of the state constitution.
Several of these provisions have been part of Washington’s constitution since 1889. The most recent supermajority restriction was added by lawmakers, and confirmed by voters, in 2007, with the requirement for a three-fifths legislative vote to spend funds from the budget stabilization account.
As previously mentioned one of the constitution's supermajority vote requirements is to incur debt. There is also a supermajority vote requirement forcing savings and to spend one-time funds from the state's budget stabilization account. These constitutional supermajority vote restriction are good budget policy to keep the state from overextending the budget without broad consensus.
The one component currently missing from the state's budget supermajority requirements is the additional protection for taxpayers on tax increases. This despite the fact the voters have repeatedly supported this policy. Ultimately the legislature should allow the voters to harmonize the existing budget supermajority vote requirements with a tax restriction to compliment the current higher threshold for incurring debt and spending one-time savings:
• Article 7, Section 12: Three-fifths vote of the legislature to spend money from budget stabilization account (with certain exceptions).

• Article 8, Section 1: Three-fifths vote of the legislature required to incur state debt.
If the legislature ultimately decides to send voters a proposed constitutional amendment to require a supermajority vote to raise taxes, it would be following the lead of several other states. Seventeen states have some form of supermajority vote requirement for tax increases. Among the states with this taxpayer protection are Oregon and California.
It is worth noting on the national that level that much of President Obama's agenda has survived Republican control of Congress due to supermajority vote requirements (Senate filibuster and 2/3 vote for veto override).
Fighting back against the "will of the majority" the President recently praised the supermajority vote policy for saving his controversial nuclear deal with Iran.
If supermajority vote requirements are truly incompatible with democratic principles and facilitate the "tyranny of the minority" I would expect to see efforts to remove the numerous supermajority requirements already in Washington's constitution and those utilized at the national level.
Washington Policy Center has long recommended allowing the people to vote on a constitutional amendment to implement the supermajority tax restriction voters have previously approved on five occasions.
While Initiative 1366 may not be the right vehicle, regardless of the election outcome lawmakers should give voters the final say in the seemingly unending debate over the supermajority requirement for tax increases, and let the people vote on this policy as a constitutional amendment.
Additional Information
Supermajority Vote Requirements Are a Basic Part of Washington’s Democracy
Citizens’ Guide to Initiative 1366, the Taxpayer Protection Act

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