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Critics blast Supreme Court tax ruling as political power play

Initiative activist Tim Eyman speaks to the media in front of the Capitol in Olympia following the Supreme Court ruling that overturned one of his initiatives that limited the ability of the Legislature to raise taxes. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Critics are blasting the Washington Supreme Court justices who struck down an initiative requiring a two-thirds vote to pass a tax increase Thursday, arguing it was a political rather than judicial decision.

“This was an activist Supreme Court decision where the Supreme Court has prudently decided not to go before,” said KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, as he criticized the ruling and the court even taking up the issue.

The justices ruled Thursday the measure violated the state constitution. In the 6-3 decision, Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority the constitution makes clear any bill receiving a simple majority vote will become law, and no language in the provision qualifies that requirement by stating a bill needs “at least a majority vote.”

But constitutional attorney David Roland with the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation strongly disagrees.

“The very first statement in the Washington State Constitution is that all political power is inherent in the people and the government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That’s the central premise of government authority in Washington state,” he told Dori in an interview Thursday.

Rowland argues the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by even taking up the case, considering nearly two-thirds of voters overwhelmingly approved the supermajority measure last November.

“Article Two makes clear that the people themselves were reserving the ability to make laws over and above the legislature. By reserving the initiative and the referendum powers the people were saying we are the final say in how our government is going to function not the legislature,” he said.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Charles Johnson, writes the majority of justices were eager to “embroil itself in the political arena,” arguing the court has repeatedly “rejected the invitation to engage in this political dispute, exercising the wisdom, restraint, and temperance not to step outside the court’s constitutional authority.”

Rowland told Dori he thinks last year’s Supreme Court ruling that the state was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to adequately fund basic education played a big part in the decision.

“The McLeary cases suggests that Washington state is going to have to pay billions more dollars for education. And the question is where is that money going to come from,” he said.

“The best guess is that the majority looked at what it said in McLeary, looked at the unlikelihood the legislature was going to be able to raise two-thirds support in both houses to get any new tax increases so they decided to remove a barrier.”

While Rowland and Dori both predicted a flood of tax increases will now ensue, Rowland is holding out hope for a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote for any new tax increases. That would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature to put the measure on a statewide ballot. A simple majority of voters is needed to approve it

“Lawmakers clearly don’t like restrictions placed on themselves,” Rowland said of the prospects for lawmakers to approve the amendment. “However, another thing to keep in mind is two-thirds passed overwhelmingly in just about every district in state. The one thing that legislators like less than having their authority restricted is being voted out of office,” he said hopefully.

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