Washington Supreme Court rules tax law unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Washington Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 6-3 Thursday that a voter approved measure requiring a super-majority vote by the state legislature in order to raise taxes is unconstitutional. The initiative [I-1053, PDF] was approved by voters on multiple occasions, but the majority ruled that the language of the state's constitution is clear and unequivocal. Article II, section 22 [constitution, text] states that no bill shall become a law unless a majority of the members elected to each house vote in its favor. The court held that this provision sets both a minimum and a maximum voting requirement and therefore the super-majority requirement violates article II, section 22 by requiring certain legislation to receive a two-thirds vote. The court concluded:

Our holding today is not a judgment on the wisdom of requiring a supermajority for the passage of tax legislation. Such judgment is left to the legislative branch of our government. Should the people and the legislature still wish to require a supermajority vote for tax legislation, they must do so through constitutional amendment, not through legislation.
In a dissenting opinion, Associate chief justice Charles Johnson criticized the ruling, accusing the court of interfering in political issues.

In 2010 Washington state voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to institute an income tax [JURIST report], with over 65 percent of the electorate voting against the initiative. Washington is one of seven states in the US that does not have a personal income tax [DOR backgrounder], instead raising revenue through sales taxes and business taxes. Voters have rejected any attempts to create personal income tax, through several ballot initiatives. Although a graduated income tax was accepted in 1932, the state supreme court found it unconstitutional in 1933. The court held that income was property and that Article VII, Section 1 of the state constitution [text] precludes the non-uniform taxation of property.

 

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