'Are you rich?' Pam Roach plays hardball on I-1185
Senator Pam Roach’s, um, signature approach to lawmaking was on full display at last week’s public hearing on Initiative 1185. The Tim Eyman vehicle is the fifth initiative seeking to require a two-thirds majority in the Senate and House in order to raise taxes. The pro-business Washington Policy Center (WPC) had just given the Roach’s Senate Government Operations Committee — the Auburn Republican chairs it — a breakdown on how 1185 fared in each of the state’s 49 legislative districts last November. (Majorities in only five Seattle districts voted against the measure.) Roach was using the breakdown to taunt legislators and testifiers alike.
Roach's committee heard pro and con testimony on two pieces of Roach legislation and a third one by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. All three (SJR 8200, SJR 8204 and SJR 8205) would set up a statewide ballot on whether the two-thirds rule should be put into the Washington Constitution. Washington's Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether the two-thirds majority rule is constitutional.
After Jason Mercier of the WPC shared the voting tallies, Roach read off the percentages by which I-1185 had passed in the district of each committee member present on Thursday.
Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle: "69 percent."
Ann Rivers, R-La Center: "72 percent."
Karen Fraser, D-Olympia: "Oooooh, only 54 percent."
Steve Conway, D-Tacoma: "68 percent."
Roach's own district: "73 percent."
Benton's district: "72 percent."
She then asked some of the testifiers which legislative districts they lived in, and proceeded to recite the winning percentage in those districts too.
Roach: "I think this [breakdown] is really helpful . . . If you don't live in downtown Seattle, everyone else wants restrictions on government spending. We have a 'protect-the-citadel' mentality here in Olympia. I sure don't have it."
Benton: "As a legislator and more as a citizen, I find it arrogant that the legislature slaps down the will of the people."
On the pro-1185 side, the Washington Retail Association and the Association of Washington Businesses (AWB) support a constitutional, supermajority-for-taxes requirement. Amber Carter, representing the AWB, said the supermajority approach, part of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) set of recommendations to state legislatures, would help create jobs. (ALEC is a think tank that writes prototype bills for conservative legislators across the United States.) Eighteen other states have such supermajority requirements, Carter added.
Seven people testified against the supermajority concept, arguing that, if it were adopted, a minority in one legislative chamber could stop any tax measure.
A supermajority requirement, said Nick Federici of the Our Economic Future Coalition, "essentially allows 17 legislators [in a 49-member Senate] to block something from moving forward."
I-1185 opponent Remy Trupin of the liberal-leaning Washington State Budget and Policy Center warned that a supermajority requirement would allow corporations and the super-rich to rig the legislative system in their favor on tax issues. He also contended that Washington's bond rating could drop as Wall Street becomes leery about the state's ability to raise money.
Bill Lyne, speaking for a university faculty union and the Washington Education Association, noted that the supermajority requirement would hamper the state's ability to deal with a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling, which accuses the state of unconstitutionally underfunding education.
Roach (interrupting): "The voters were aware of that issue, of all of this. Are voters not very smart?"
She asks Lyne which legislative district he lives in. "Forty-second," he replies.
Roach, referring once again to the WPC's voting breakdown: "Sixty-six percent of the people living around you voted for I-1885 . . . It's kind of class warfare."
Lyne murmers that sometimes people — even wealthy people — vote against their best interests.
Roach (jumping in): "Are you rich?"
Roach: "How can you speak for rich people?"
She gazes at each of the seven citizens testifying against the legislation before settling on the man (Jerry Reilly) to Lyne's right.
Roach: "Are you a wealthy guy?"
Reilly, who was representing an advocacy group for the elderly, said he probably could be considered wealthy. He then offered that, if budgets are hamstrung by a supermajority provision, elderly Washingtonians might be harmed by not being able to get adequate state social services.
Reilly: "We're concerned about the effects the fiscal policy would have. We're concerned about the social safety net."