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On May 30, 2012, the Superior Court of King County, in League of Education Voters v. Washington, has found the Washington statute requiring that legislation seeking to increase taxes be passed by two-thirds of both houses to be unconstitutional. The supermajority requirement was originally approved by voters via Initiative Measure 601 in 1993 and was subsequently re-enacted by three separate ballot measures, the most recent being I-1053 in 2011. The court found that there was an actual dispute underlying the declaratory judgment action because the House was unable to pass SHB 2078 in 2011 with a simple majority. SHB 2078 would have funded class size reductions by narrowing the tax deductions for large banks and other financial institutions.

 

The court held that the proper method of imposing a supermajority requirement is to amend the Washington Constitution as opposed to pursuing the initiative process. Art II, §22, of the Washington Constitution expressly provides that no bill may become law without a majority vote. The plain language of Art II, §22, reflects that the Legislature does not have the authority to impose a more strict voting requirement. Furthermore, the Constitution contains 16 provisions with supermajority vote requirements, and, therefore, it can be presumed that the absence of such supermajority language in Art II, §22, was intentional. The framers' concern with special interests and the potential impact of a strong legislative lobby also indicates that the majority requirement contained in Art II, §22, was not intended as a minimum threshold that would allow a minority of legislators to thwart the will of the majority.

 

The court also determined that the mandatory referendum requirement contained in RCW 43.135.034 is unconstitutional. The statute provides that tax increases that exceed the state expenditure limit must be submitted to the voters for approval. However, Art. II, §1, requires that before legislative action may be subject to a referendum, a petition be circulated and signed by 4% of the votes cast for the office of governor in the last election. In addition, by requiring that such tax increases be sent to voters, the mandate infringes upon future legislatures' plenary power to enact legislation under Art. II, §1. The proper method of imposing a mandatory referendum requirement is to amend the Washington Constitution.

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