Defiance And Praise As Washington High Court Makes Tax Hikes Easier

By Austin Jenkins

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Raising taxes in Washington just got a whole lot easier. The state Supreme Court Thursday threw out the requirement that tax increases muster a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Democrats say the ruling will allow more options as lawmakers grapple with ongoing budget woes. But Republicans vow to uphold the will of voters who’ve repeatedly supported a high bar for tax hikes.

Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman (left).Five times over the past 20 years, Washington voters have approved measures to require a supermajority vote for tax hikes. The last three were sponsored by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman. The most recent one – last year – passed with a nearly two-thirds vote of the people. Eyman drove down to the Capitol. He told reporters the question now is what will the legislature do?

Tim Eyman: “Nothing’s changed as far as the level of public support for this measure. Six justices obviously don’t like it, but 1.9M people do.”

That was also the message inside the capitol – at least from leaders of the Republican-dominated majority coalition in the state Senate.

Don Benton: “We’re going to honor the will of the people.”

Deputy Republican Leader Don Benton announced he would move to change the rules of the Senate to require a supermajority vote for taxes.
Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman responds to the Supreme Courts decision striking down his initiative to require a two-thirds vote for tax hikes. Photo by Austin Jenkins.

Don Benton: “The court has no jurisdiction over our internal rules. The senate controls our internal rules. And this would be an internal rule change.”

And Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, one of two Democrats in the 25 member coalition, vowed to immediately move a supermajority constitutional amendment out of committee. If the Senate majority was feeling defiant. Over in the House majority Democrats were feeling vindicated. The court opinion called the two-thirds requirement for taxes “a tyranny of the minority.”

Laurie Jinkins: “That’s what we’ve had.”

State Representative Laurie Jinkins is one of the dozen Democratic lawmakers who brought the lawsuit, along with the state’s teachers’ union and the League of Education Voters. Jinkins hopes the ruling leads to a robust conversation about closing tax exemptions.

Laurie Jinkins: “What loopholes are really doing something for people in the state of Washington and are they doing something better than funding education or funding homecare services.”

House Democrats were also quick to dismiss the Senate’s call for a constitutional amendment to bring back the supermajority rule.

Jamie Pedersen: “No one in his right mind would ever adopt a constitutional amendment that looks like these initiatives.”

That was House Judiciary Chair Jamie Pedersen. Back outside the Capitol, as Tim Eyman finished his press conference, a voice from the back of the media scrum.

Adam Kline: “Where is the fraud and the waste and abuse in the budget, Tim?”

It was State Senator Adam Kline, a self-described liberal from Seattle who’s tangled with Eyman before. Kline said even with the lower threshold to raise taxes, the message from voters remains intact.

Adam Kline: “There will be no rush to the barricades to start passing tax bills. You will not see that here.”

And Senate Republicans say if any revenue is included in a final budget, they’ll insist it go to voters for final approval.

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