- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that struck down a ballot initiative that sought to limit taxes, with the high court ruling that the measure violated the state constitution’s requirement that initiatives be limited to a single subject.

Voters last fall narrowly approved Initiative 1366, which would have cut the sales tax by 1 percentage point beginning this past April unless lawmakers allowed a public vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature for future tax increases. A King County superior judge ruled in January that the measure was unconstitutional.

“Based on the plain language of the initiative, we hold that I-1366 requires the legislature to choose between two operative provisions,” the opinion, authored by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, read. “This does not constitute valid contingent legislation. Instead, this is the kind of logrolling of unrelated measures article II, section 19 of the Washington State Constitution was adopted to prevent.”

If the measure had been enacted and if the sales tax cut had taken effect, it would have slashed state revenue by an estimated $8 billion through the middle of 2021 at a time when lawmakers are working out how to respond to court rulings demanding vast increases in education and mental health spending.

Currently, taxes can be raised with approval by 25 of the Senate’s 49 members and 50 of the House’s 98 members. I-1366’s sponsor, Tim Eyman, has filed another initiative to limit tax increases to one year unless they’re approved by voters.

In a statement emailed to the media and others, Eyman said that the court ignored the will of voters, who he said haven’t changed their mind in spite of the ruling.

“Voters are 100% opposed to tax increases,” Eyman wrote.

Three of the justices, writing in a separate concurrence opinion, wrote they believed the initiative also violated the Constitution in another way: by essentially proposing a constitutional amendment, which can’t be done by initiative in Washington state. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House before being sent to the ballot for voters’ consideration.

“The initiative ignores the constitutionally required first step-the proposal of a constitutional amendment in either house,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote. “Initiatives are not the proper vehicle to amend the constitution.”

Earlier in the ruling Madsen did address the issue, noting that if the Legislature had not proposed a constitutional amendment, it would immediately face loss of yearly revenue.

“This structure, taken to its logical conclusion, establishes a new process for amending the constitution,” she wrote. “The new norm would be for initiative sponsors to pair one drastic or undesirable measure with an ultimatum that it go into effect unless a specific constitutional amendment is proposed to the people. This new process amounts to a small percentage of voters effectuating a constitutional amendment by two majority votes and is simply not one contemplated by the constitution, even if further action is required by the legislature.”

However, once constitutionality was determined on the single-subject argument Madsen wrote that, “Because it is unnecessary to reach opponents’ additional arguments, we decline to do so.”

Democratic Sen. David Frockt, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said while the constitutional amendment issue wasn’t officially ruled on by the court, he believed that the analysis by Madsen in the main opinion leaves no question where the court stands.

“They make it clear you can’t amend the Constitution by initiative,” he said. “I would think this issue is put to rest.”

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Online:

I-1366 ruling: http://1.usa.gov/20GYwrQ

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