Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Initiative 960: Unconstitutional, Unfair, Unsound (Part I)

Welcome to Part I of our pre-election special series on Initiative 960 (Unconstitutional, Unfair, Unsound).

Each post in this series will briefly focus on a different conflict between the language of Tim Eyman's right wing scheme to paralyze Washington and our state's constitution, which trumps any statute (whether it be a citizen initiative or a bill passed out of the Legislature) when there is a contradiction.

The main intent of I-960 is to give control over important budgeting decisions over to a minority of elected lawmakers, and it's this supermajority requirement that we'll be taking a look at in this installment of our I-960 series.

Yesterday I explained the proper use of supermajorities:
Our democracy rests on the foundation of majority rule with minority rights. When the will of the majority is thwarted, as Joel puts it in his column, our political system ceases to be democratic.

Supermajorities are only appropriate when required to protect minority rights - to prevent mob rule, or the tyranny of the majority. It makes sense to have a high bar for amending the state Constitution, the supreme law of our land.

Applying such requirements to lawmaking - in this case, critical decisions about raising revenue and funding vital public services - would destroy our tradition of majority rule and take aim at the very fabric of our democracy.
The supreme law of our state defines all the instances where supermajorities are required for the Legislature to take action. On all other occasions, the Constitution says that majority rule will prevail. Adding or subtracting exceptions in the Constitution may only be done through amendment.

The following table explains the meaning of the language (Fundamental Law) excerpts the actual text in the relevant section of the state Constitution, and highlights where Eyman's proposal is in conflict (As Illegally Amended by I-960).

Fundamental LawThe State ConstitutionAs Illegally Amended
Laws, including those that raise revenue for public services, are passed by simple legislative majority. This is an essential part of our cherished tradition of majority rule with minority rights. "No bill shall become law unless ... a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor."  

Ref: Article II, Section 22
"any action or combination of actions by the legislature that raise taxes may be taken only if approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature"

Ref: I-960 Text, § 5(1)

State courts in Alaska have interpreted the virtually identical language about majority votes in their Constitution to be both a floor and a ceiling, and it can be reasonably expected that courts here will do the same.

Floor and ceiling means that "majority" is an absolute definition: no bills can pass through the Legislature without a majority; while anything greater than a simple majority cannot be required to pass bills.

The language in I-960 calls for a two thirds minimum "yea" vote of all lawmakers to pass revenue increases; the state Constitution says such legislation may move out of the statehouse with only a simple majority.

If I-960 passes, a legal challenge will very likely be filed, and courts asked to affirm or concur with the floor and ceiling interpretation.

Article II, Section 22 exists to protect our republic against unfair, unsound schemes like Initiative 960. If majority rule with minority rights disappears, Washington State ceases to be a democracy where every citizen's voice is equal.

You can help prevent I-960 from ever having a chance to wreak havoc on our state and our communities by voting NO on or before next Tuesday, Nov. 6th.

Read the rest of the series: Part II | Part III | Part IV


Anonymous markq said...

I-960 also appears to have more than one subject. Having the legislature approve every agency fee increase (by a simple majority)does not appear to be the same subject as requiring a two thirds vote of the legislature and advisory votes for tax increases.

November 6, 2007 9:28 PM  

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