Appeal of supermajority ruling prudent

The voters clearly want a higher threshold to approve taxes, but a Superior Court judge struck down as unconstitutional a two-thirds majority for tax hikes.

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Washington state's voters approved in 2010 -- by a wide margin -- a mandate that any tax increase must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the state House and Senate. That was the fourth time voters have approved a two-thirds mandate.

But earlier this week a King County Superior Court judge ruled the latest initiative unconstitutional. He said the supermajority vote requirement "violates the simple majority provision" of the state constitution.

The ruling has sparked outrage by those who believe a judge should, under no circumstances, overrule the will of the people.

While we believe this measure ultimately will be ruled constitutional, we also understand constitutional provisions always trump laws approved through the initiative process as well as the Legislature.

The threshold to change the state constitution is significantly higher as it requires a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Legislature as well as approval by the people.

In addition, it's too early to be outraged. This week's ruling is only one step in the process to determine whether the mandates of the initiative are constitutional.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, on behalf of the voters and state of Washington, said he will appeal the decision directly to the state Supreme Court.

"We believe these voter-enacted laws are constitutional, and we are determined to defend the will of the voters, just as we defend laws passed by the Legislature," he said in a statement.

This two-thirds majority issue is not strictly a legal one. It's also political -- very political.

The Democrats hold the majority in the Senate and House. Many Democrats don't like the two-thirds law because it makes it far more difficult to control the Legislature as well as to raise taxes. Minority Republicans, of course, enjoy having the power to block the majority. It forces Democrats to give them a seat at the table in negotiating the state budget.

Politics, however, should play no role in how the courts ultimately rule on this issue. It has to be on wording of the law and how it meshes with the state constitution.

The initiative appears to us to be constitutional because it merely sets a threshold for a specific type of vote. The Legislature itself imposes thresholds for various votes that go beyond a simple majority. The constitution gives the Legislature the power to raise (or lower) taxes but it doesn't necessarily give a detailed blueprint on how that occurs.

Still, those who argue against the initiative contend that since the constitution does not specifically call for a supermajority, as it does for some votes, then it is implied a simple majority is all that is needed to raise taxes.

It is certainly possible the final ruling could strike down part or all of the initiative unconstitutional. We hope that does not occur.

But if it does happen, those who back the two-thirds majority should mount a campaign to change the constitution.

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