Senate Committee Approves Putting 2/3 Requirement Into State Constitution

By Brian M. Rosenthal, February 28, 2013, Seattle Times

Hours after the state Supreme Court declared a supermajority requirement for tax increases unconstitutional, Republicans have started a quest to revive the threshold — by amending the constitution.

The GOP-run Senate budget-writing committee voted 13-10 Thursday afternoon to enshrine the requirement in the constitution.

The proposed constitutional amendment, like the initiative-imposed state law that was struck down earlier Thursday, would require legislation to increase taxes to obtain support from two-thirds of lawmakers or a majority vote of the people.

That standard has been approved by votes five times since 1993. But in a 6-3 ruling, the justices found it violates the constitution.

The constitutional amendment path is unlikely to succeed. Ironically, the proposed amendment would need to obtain its own supermajority — two-thirds support in the full state Senate and state House — and then get a majority of voters.

Democrats, who control the House, say they won’t even give it a vote there. The Senate is almost evenly split.

But if nothing else, the debate in the Senate Ways and Means Committee gave supporters of the two-thirds requirement an opportunity to make a symbolic statement against the court ruling.

“The people of Washington state did not send us down to Olympia to raise taxes,” said Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat who caucuses with 23 Republicans and one other Democrat in the majority coalition caucus.

Tom noted that 19 of the committee’s 23 members come from legislative districts where voters approved the supermajority requirement last fall.

Tom’s counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the requirement allows for a “tyranny of the minority.”

Before the final vote, state Sen. Brian Hatfield unsuccessfully proposed a constitutional amendment of his own: a two-thirds requirement for all votes in the Legislature.

“This is, in some ways, kind of a put up or shut up,” said Hatfield, D-Raymond.

The final vote on the taxes-only requirement went along caucus lines, with all members of the mostly-GOP majority coalition voting yes and all members of the Democratic caucus voting no.

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