State Supreme Court rejects Eyman's two-thirds tax rule

Tim Eyman - Courtesy photo
Tim Eyman
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The Washington State Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, struck down Initiative 1185, the rule that forced the state Legislature to come to a two-thirds majority in order to enact new taxes.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, and Justices Susan Owen, Mary Fairhurst, Tom Chambers, Charles Wiggins and Steven Gonzalez held the majority position, while Justices Charles Johnson, James Johnson and Debra Stephens held the dissenting opinion.

I-1185, which voters overwhelmingly passed in the last election, was the most recent iteration of initiative guru Tim Eyman's popular idea, dating back to its first incarnation in 1993.

The rule had survived four previous challenges, with the most recent coming from the League of Education Voters.

"The language and history of the constitution evince a principle of favoring a simple majority vote for legislation," wrote Justice Owen in the majority opinion. "The State's proposed reading of article II, section 22, would fundamentally alter our system of government, and such alteration is possible only through constitutional amendment. Washington's government was founded as a representative democracy based on a simple majority rule."

Owens continued, writing that the two-thirds rule constituted a "tyranny of the minority."

"The Supermajority Requirement unconstitutionally amends the constitution by imposing a two-thirds vote requirement for tax legislation. More importantly, the Supermajority Requirement substantially alters our system of government, thus enabling a tyranny of the minority."

Justices Charles and James Johnson penned the dissenting opinions, with Justice Charles Johnson saying the Supreme Court embroiled itself in a political battle and Justice James Johnson citing the decision as an "ironic" turn of events.

"In its eagerness to embroil itself in the political arena, the majority abandons any semblance of judicial restraint to declare the process of legislative enactment infirm," Justice Charles Johnson wrote. "For the past two decades, the people of this state have repeatedly voted for the supermajority provision, as has the Legislature when no initiative occurred. The majority hardly recognizes, let alone analyzes, that this court has been repeatedly asked to step in and decide this issue, and we have consistently held and rejected that invitation."

Justice James Johnson was just as scathing in his rebuttal of the majority decision.

"Article II of our constitution, as modified by Amendment 7 to authorize initiatives and referenda, requires action on the part of the legislature or a direct vote of the people to resolve legislative political issues such as taxation. The majority ironically overrides our constitution and prior case law to enforce an invented policy concern: the fear that laws requiring a supermajority to raise taxes represent a 'tyranny of the minority'…There is, of course, no historical evidence justifying such a concern in Washington."


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