At the start of the 2016 legislative session, a group of Republican state Senators proposed SJR 8211, a resolution that would amend the state Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature to raise taxes. Unfortunately, earlier this month, Democrats ensured the proposal’s failure. In a 26-23 vote (it needed at least 33 votes), the bill failed to pass the state Senate.
The bill’s failure was, undeniably, a blow to the will of Washington voters. Time and time again, voters have approved requiring a 2/3 legislative vote to raise taxes. In fact, the public has had their say a whopping six times now – the most recent time being via Initiative 1366 in 2015.
The idea of a 2/3rds rule was first introduced in 1993, when voters passed Initiative 901. By 2012, voters were approving a similar initiative by a whopping 64 percent of the vote. When voters were asked in a recent poll if there should be a requirement for a supermajority vote to raise taxes in the state Legislature, 60% of the survey respondents said yes, there should be.
Democrats have consistently ignored the voters and worked to ensure that a 2/3rds rule never sees the light of day. No doubt, the fact that the rule would make it difficult to increase taxes has something to do with their position on the issue. You see, Democrats introduce some sort of tax increase (including a state income tax) every singe year – and this year is no exception.
The 2016 session was less than a week old when Democrat lawmakers began lining up to reintroduce bills that would establish a state income tax. A group of House Democrats reintroduced last session’s capital gains income tax bill and Senate Democrats reintroduced an amendment to the state constitution that would allow for a state income tax.
Of course, these bills are just a small part of the Democrats’ ongoing attempt to fulfill the “guiding principle” in their party platform: a state income tax.
While Democrats have busied themselves blocking voters’ will on the 2/3rds rule and scheming up ways to establish a state income tax, Republicans have been working to actually representing their constituents by implementing their six-time confirmed wishes. Yes, SJR 8211 failed, thanks to Democrats. But, Senate Republicans have proposed another option that their Democrat counterparts may find a little more difficult to explain to their constituents.
Last week, Senate Republicans introduced SJR 8215. The new proposal would require voter approval for “any action or combination of actions by the legislature that raises taxes.” Voter approval would be required unless (via the Washington Policy Center):
- the tax was approved with a 3/5 vote (same constitutional vote requirement for issuing bonds and accessing funds from the Budget Stabilization Account); or
- the tax responds to a declaration of emergency approved by the legislature to protect life or public safety (limited to 12 months and in response to a catastrophic event); or
- the legislature is modifying or terminating a tax preference reviewed first by the commission established in law that recommended not to continue the preference.
The new proposal gives power back to the taxpaying public, while also allowing for reasonable exceptions. As the Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier explains, the proposal is “a smart compromise that provides the added protection against tax increases that the people have consistently demanded while providing the flexibility for the legislature to quickly respond to a catastrophic emergency to protect life or public safety.”
The new proposal forces Democrats to face important questions, including:
- Do Democrats trust/respect voters enough to give them the power to approve or disapprove of tax increases?
- Are Democrats willing to set aside their special interests/bigger government agenda in favor of granting power back to voters?
- Are Democrats truly willing to work past their hyper-partisan stances and compromise with Republicans (who are working on behalf of their constituents)?
The bill is scheduled for a public hearing in Senate Ways & Means this week. We will keep you informed of the Democrats’ response and the bill’s progress.