2/3 majority to raise taxes means a Legislature in knots

October 11, 2010 

Initiative Measure 1053 may be popular at first glance with Washington voters, but they'd better look beyond the horizon before marking their ballots.

The initiative would require two-thirds majority in the Legislature to raise taxes.

To its backers, that would be great.

As a practical matter, it would mean that there would be no new taxes for the next couple of years and maybe none beyond that.

Getting a two-thirds majority for anything out of any Legislature we know of is nearly impossible.

Given the public's justifiable desire to curb the unsustainable growth in state government, this initiative is certain to be popular.

But do we really want to leave the state's fate in the hands of just 17 individuals?

That's what I-1053 would do -- allow a bloc of 17 state senators to block any tax regardless of the circumstances. That's too much power concentrated in too few hands.

Essentially, passing this initiative nullifies a major belief of most Americans: Majority rules.

Here's a constitutional take on the matter:

"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States ..."

The Founding Fathers went on to list many other duties and responsibilities for Congress, but the very first one mentioned (Section 8 -- Powers of Congress) -- deals with taxes.

That is what we elect our legislators for, both federal and state: To take care of business.

We should not charge them with responsibilities without giving them the power to meet those responsibilities.

No new taxes?

It's a brave or unusually prescient person who can see that far ahead in a world slowly emerging from an economic crisis.

There are, of course, exceptions to the majority always getting its way. We, nationally and in Washington state, require super majorities for some things -- changing the Constitution comes first to mind.

New or raised fees still would be allowed by simple majority votes in this initiative, and that's a good thing. But that's the way things are now.

Legislators have to bargain and campaign all the time.

This initiative would trump any ideas of new approaches to paying for government.

With nearly 10 percent of Washingtonians out of work and looking for jobs, the strain on government help is enormous.

Yes, times are bad. But they have been worse.

And they can get worse.

Telling the state Legislature that if trouble comes, "we don't want you to do anything about it," is an ostrich answer -- leaving lawmakers with no alternative to sticking their heads in the sand.

The Herald editorial board recommends a "no" vote on Initiative 1053.

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