Tri-City Herald: New state tax measure need a chance for debate

The state Senate has set a horrible precedent.

On its first day the Senate approved a rule change that requires a two-thirds vote to get new tax proposals to the Senate floor. That means it will take only 17 members to block a new tax and decide the fate of new revenue sources for the rest of the state.

Those senators who favored the rule change claimed they are following the will of the people. But allowing legislators to dodge discussions on new taxes is not what Washington voters had in mind when they approved initiatives that required a final, super-majority vote for tax increases.

In those cases, the bills at least made it to the floor for debate. The people never said they wanted to give lawmakers a way to avoid discussing taxes, just a way to make sure that taxes were approved by a two-thirds margin in the final count.

Initiatives requiring a super-majority for tax measures, however, were struck down as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2013. So this year, Sens. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, came up with an idea to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling.

The state constitution authorizes each chamber of the Legislature to adopt its own procedural rules, so requiring a two-thirds vote to put a new tax measure on the Senate floor is technically legal. But legislators have a difficult time getting anything done as it is without adding another obstacle to the process.

In addition, this proposal goes against the spirit of compromise and negotiation that makes the best laws. We have seen time and again how well-intentioned, voter-approved initiatives end up causing all kinds of unforeseen, troubling consequences because they were not well planned. The most workable laws are the ones that have been discussed across both sides of the aisle with the details hammered out.

This new rule will choke off discussion of new tax measures early in the process, which will limit options and suppress creative budget strategies. It will make it harder for legislators to shoot for the middle and compromise because they won’t have to if the tax debate never happens.

Their super-majority plan makes a complex process even more complicated. There is enough gridlock in Olympia without putting up another hurdle to the process. This new rule was a bad decision.