— Will require two-thirds approval of Senate to advance tax bills to final passage
— Different mechanism but same effect as popular taxpayer protection measure
— Will challenge any adverse ruling from lieutenant governor
OLYMPIA – Sens. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, and Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, will seek reinstatement of a two-thirds-for-taxes rule in the state Senate when the Washington Legislature reconvenes in January – and they vow any adverse ruling will be met with a challenge from the floor.
Their proposed Senate rule mirrors the popular two-thirds-for-taxes rule endorsed by Washington voters six times since 1993, which required a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate for final passage of any measure that increases taxes. Though the state Supreme Court declared that rule unconstitutional in 2013, the Senate rule utilizes a different mechanism – the process by which legislation is advanced to the Senate floor for a final vote.
In a session likely to be dominated by talk of new taxes, the two-thirds rule will ensure that a tax increase cannot imposed by a narrow majority of the Legislature, Ericksen explained. “With the amount of pressure being applied by special interest groups, lobbyists and liberal Democrats to raise taxes, now more than ever the taxpayers of Washington need the protection of a two-thirds-for-taxes rule in the state Senate,” he said.
The rule would require a two-thirds vote of the state Senate to advance tax bills from second reading to third reading and final passage – 33 of 49 members. The rule would not change the requirement for final passage, however, where only a simple majority is needed, 25 of 49.
Because the rule affects only the procedural vote, it does not conflict with the Supreme Court ruling. The court decided that voters or the Legislature cannot impose requirements for final passage of bills that are more stringent than those laid out by the state constitution. However, the ruling does not affect the procedural votes that take place before a bill can be considered for final passage, and the constitution clearly authorizes the House and Senate to adopt their own rules for the conduct of business.
The Senate adopted a similar two-thirds rule at the start of the 2015 legislative session, but the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, refused to enforce it. Owen stated that he believed the rule to be unconstitutional, because it had the same effect as the rule overturned by the Supreme Court. He failed to address the fact that the Senate rule had a different basis in law.
“It was wildly improper for the lieutenant governor to declare the rule unconstitutional,” Baumgartner said. “Only the courts can do that, and we’re on sound legal footing if the rule ever faces a legal challenge. We need to make it clear from the start that if the next lieutenant governor takes it upon himself to declare the rule unconstitutional, we will force a floor vote to overturn his ruling. The same principle applies to any other potential abuse of the lieutenant governor’s authority.”
Rulings from the presiding officer of the Senate can be overturned with a simple majority vote.
The Senate traditionally adopts procedural rules on the opening day of a biennial legislative session. The 2017 session begins Jan. 9.
“This two-thirds rule will provide the Senate with the discipline it will need in the coming session to meet the challenge of fully funding basic education,” Baumgartner said. “Taxpayers have told us time and again that raising taxes should not be easy. As long as we have a two-thirds rule in the Senate, the Legislature won’t be able to take the easy way out.”