Senate passage of two-thirds-for-taxes rule ensures taxes will be last resort, say Baumgartner, Ericksen

  • Endorsed six times by Washington voters, thrown out by Supreme Court.
  • Senate rule uses different mechanism, has same effect.
  • Requires two-thirds vote of Senate for any bill raising taxes.

OLYMPIA – New rules adopted by the Senate Wednesday extend the state’s popular two-thirds-for-taxes rule, the taxpayer-protection measure requiring a two-thirds legislative vote for any tax increase that has been endorsed six times by Washington voters.

Senators approved a rule requiring a two-thirds procedural vote before any bill raising taxes can be considered on the Senate floor. The rule uses a different mechanism than the law tossed out by the court, but the effect is the same, said Sens. Michael Baumgartner and Doug Ericksen, who led the effort to renew the rule.

“We demonstrated that we are listening to the people, and that there is a clear difference between the political parties,” said Baumgartner, R-Spokane. “By making taxes a true last resort, we ensure that this will be a session of reform.”

The rule requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to advance any bill raising taxes to “third reading,” at which point the Senate is permitted to take a vote on final passage. Tax bills can then be passed by a simple majority vote.

The old two-thirds law, overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2013, was imposed five times by Washington voters and supported in a sixth ballot measure in 2015. It required a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate for passage of tax bills. By imposing a steep-but-not-impossible hurdle for tax increases, the rule ensured that tax increases could not be passed by a narrow majority. But in 2013, the Supreme Court declared the rule unconstitutional because it went beyond the requirements for passage of a bill established by the state constitution.

By imposing the requirement on a procedural vote, and not on final passage, the senators maintain that the rule should pass judicial scrutiny. They note that the constitution clearly allows the Senate to adopt its own rules for the conduct of business.

“The Senate stood up today to protect taxpayers,” said Ericksen, R-Ferndale. “The people have said overwhelmingly that they want a two-thirds requirement to raise taxes. Today’s vote was a victory for the people of Washington state.”

Two years ago, the Senate adopted a similar requirement for the passage of new taxes. But Lt. Gov. Brad Owen refused to enforce it, saying he believed the rule unconstitutional. Lawmakers did not challenge his ruling at that time. Baumgartner and Ericksen maintain the ruling was improper, and say they will quickly demand a vote to override any such ruling in the future.