OLYMPIA — The Washington State Supreme Court is expected to rule Thursday whether requiring a two-thirds majority for lawmakers to raise taxes is constitutional.
One way or another, the ruling could affect lawmakers who are now trying to close a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall and deal with the court’s last major decision — last year’s order to significantly increase funding for public schools.
In general, Democrats are looking toward new taxes while Republicans do not favor tax increases. A ruling that the two-thirds requirement is constitutional, then, would boost the GOP. A ruling the other way would allow taxes to be increased with a simple majority vote.
But it’s not a given the Legislature would approve new taxes even if the court overturns the two-thirds requirement. Republicans control the state Senate and oppose any tax increase. And Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has said he would not approve new taxes, although he’s indicated he’s open to extending existing taxes.
The court’s ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by the League of Education Voters and other groups against Initiative 1053, a 2010 initiative sponsored by Tim Eyman that reinstated the two-thirds requirement. The two-thirds restriction was first authorized by voters in 1993. It was reimposed in 1998, 2007 and 2010, at least in part because of lawmakers’ penchant for suspending the requirement to raise more revenue.
The court has been asked to rule on the constitutionality in the past, and each time has avoided a direct decision.