Washington state voters have, on four occasions, approved ballot measures requiring the Legislature to obtain a two-thirds majority to authorize tax increases.
Yet, the first three voter-approved initiatives were slowly but effectively altered by the Legislature -- as lawmakers can do after two years -- until the two-thirds majority is effectively neutered.
Last November voters approved the fourth initiative -- Initiative 1053 -- to require a two-thirds majority or statewide voter approval to raise taxes.
While we were weary of previous measures, we endorsed I-1053 because we believe, given the Great Recession, that raising taxes should be the last resort to balance the state budget. In addition, we have grown tired of lawmakers usurping the will of the people.
Some legislators, particularly Democrats who control the House and Senate, weren't happy with the voters' approval of I-1053. But lawmakers have to wait two years to tinker with initiatives.
This left legislators only one option -- complain about the restrictions, which they maintain unconstitutionally curbs the authority granted them to enact taxes.
Talk of a legal challenge has been swirling in Olympia. Last week Gov. Chris Gregoire said she believes a court challenge is needed to bring clarity -- and perhaps finality -- to the matter.
This stand doesn't set well with initiative activist Tim Eyman and others who worked to make the two-thirds requirement law. Eyman, sponsor of I-1053 and previous initiatives, said the matter was resolved when voters approved the two-thirds requirement four times.
While the will of the voters has weight, it does not trump the rights and principles of state or federal constitutions.
Constitutions, whether at the state or federal level, require a higher threshold for being changed than laws. This was done so constitutions would not be constantly changed by shifts in the political winds. In Washington state, for example, it takes action by legislators and a vote of the people to change the state constitution.
It is possible the two-thirds mandate does trample on the powers of legislators as spelled out in the constitution.
"I think there is a real argument to be made that you can't restrict the Legislature in that regard," Gregoire said. "I don't know what the court would say in the end, but I do think it is a legitimate legal challenge."
So, too, do we.
If lawmakers want to challenge the matter they should do so for the benefit of all. Let's settle the matter.
But if the court rules the initiative's restrictions are constitutional, lawmakers should abide by the ruling and accept the will of the voters.