The Capitol Record

State’s high court hears arguments in two-thirds tax case

The Washington Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a voter-approved law that requires the Legislature to have a two-thirds “supermajority” of votes to raise taxes, rather than a simple majority.

The law is being challenged by education advocacy groups, taxpayers and a dozen state lawmakers. They argue that the law hinders the state’s ability to raise revenue for schools, and is unconstitutional.

Paul Lawrence, a lawyer for the education groups, argued in front of the Supreme Court today that the two-thirds law is having negative impacts that are “real and undeniable.” He cited three bills that were defeated in the state House or Senate because they couldn’t muster enough votes for a supermajority.

“It is working exactly as intended, and in so doing it is taking off the table legislative options to address the state’s most pressing problems, including the ability to fund education as constitutionally required,” Lawrence said.

Arguing in defense of the law, Solicitor General Maureen Hart said the plaintiffs can’t demonstrate a legal reason for overturning the law. The education advocates are interested in “greater spending for the programs they support,” Hart said. “That’s a political interest, it isn’t a legal interest.”

The same goes for the state lawmakers who signed onto the lawsuit, Hart argued.

“Their interest is in passing tax increases that a simple majority vote of the Legislature could pass when the Legislature has not chosen to do that. That’s is a political interest, too, not a legal interest,” Hart said.

An attorney representing Gov. Chris Gregoire asked for the court for a final ruling on the constitutionality of the law to end the uncertainty surrounding the issue.

The court is expected to rule before the next legislative session. Voters have approved the supermajority requirement four times, most recently in 2010.

Watch the full arguments below:

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