Lawmakers continue to huddle behind closed doors at the capitol. Credit: MathTeacherGuy/Flickr
Senate Republicans wasted no time responding to the Supreme Court's ruling against a required two-thirds majority for tax hikes Thursday. The Senate's Republican-heavy coalition called a same-day hearing for a pair of bills that would put a two-thirds majority back before Washington voters in the fall as a constitutional amendment. The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted 13-10 Thursday to put one of the bills, sponsored by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, to a full Senate vote.
"All 25 [majority alliance senators] have pledged to support a two-thirds constitutional amendment," Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, said before the hearing.
The Democrats unsuccessfully tried to amend Roach's bill to require all bills to tally a two-thirds majority to pass. Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, said since the Republicans believe voters don't trust the Legislature with taxes, then that mistrust should be honored in all legislation. "This is a put-up-or-shut-up amendment," Hatfield said.
Hatfield's amendment died along party lines.
The Republicans would need a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House to take a proposed constitutional amendment to a public ballot. That is unlikely, since Democrats have a strong majority in the House and control 49 percent of the Senate. Eight minority Democrats would have to switch sides for the majority coalition to get a two-thirds majority.
Roach talked about using the results of last November's vote on I-1053 to pressure Democrats to vote for the measure. The business-leaning Washington Policy Center has released a breakdown of I-1053 results in each of the 49 legislative districts earlier this month. Washingtonians approved the now-unconstitutional I-1053 by 64 percent. The initiative carried 44 of the state's 49 districts, losing only in central Seattle. Roach wants Republicans to cajole Democrats one-by-one with the I-1053 results from their individual districts, arguing they are out of touch with their voters. "Will you stand for what your constituents want?" asked Amber Carter, a lobbyist for the Association of Washington Business.
If the Democratic legislators hold fast, Roach and Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said those stances should be used as campaign issues in the next elections. "This will soften up a few Democrats," Roach said.
Following Roach's playbook, Tom announced that only three of the 10 Ways and Means Committee members who voted against the bills came from districts that voted against I-1053: Sens Ed Murray, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Sharon Nelson, all Seattle Democrats.
Murray and Kohl-Welles argued that the Legislature exists as part of the system of checks and balances, with a right to oppose the I-1053 votes. Murray quoted part of the Supreme Court ruling about combating "the tyranny of the minority" as part of those checks and balances. "You are voting against a core principle that this nation was founded upon," he said.
"We have our hands tied when we're limited in any way to come up with the best solutions for the problems before us," Kohl-Welles said.
The mastermind of I-1053 and four previous successful public ballots for a supermajority on taxes is Tim Eyman, a professional conservative initiative guru. "In light of today's ruling, all eyes now move to the Legislature and what they're going to do," he said in a written statement.
In an appearance Thursday at the state Capitol, the normally brash Eyman declined to answer several questions about his personal feelings about the Supreme Court ruling, saying he is working on becoming more restrained.
As Eyman began to leave the Capitol steps, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, challenged Eyman to say what waste could be cut from the state budget to enact it without new taxes. Cutting wastes and programs is the usual advice given by Olympia's anti-new-tax crowd. Eyman walked away without answering.
Kline called after Eyman: "Where is that fraud, waste and abuse? Where is that fraud? Can't tell? I guess not."