Initiative 1053 is Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to wreck government, funded by out-of-state corporations like BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Tesoro, Bank of America, USBank, and Wells Fargo, who want to change the basic rules our Legislature has operated by since statehood so they can preserve their special tax breaks.
Under Initiative 1053, seventeen out of one hundred and forty seven lawmakers can block any revenue-raising bill that they don’t like. Initiative 1053 is an assault on our cherished tradition of majority rule – the bedrock principle of our democracy. It would effectively give a fringe minority the ability to veto important fiscal decisions.
Initiative 1053 is Unconstitutional
Article II, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution declares:
PASSAGE OF BILLS. No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.
“Majority rule” means fifty percent plus one. Not more. Not less.
A supermajority is not a majority, just as a submajority is not a majority, because requiring a supermajority gives some lawmakers more power than others. Initiative 1053’s language directly contradicts that of Article II, Section 22, which makes it plainly clear that laws shall be made by majority rule.
Furthermore, Article VII, Section 1 declares:
TAXATION. The power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away.
Initiative 1053 violates the spirit, if not the letter, of this provision, which makes it clear that state government must always have the ability to raise revenue to provide the services its citizens want and need.
Initiative 1053 is Undemocratic
In a democracy, the people are the ultimate source of political power. When our nation’s Founders gave America a Constitution (which almost every state constitution, including Washington’s, is based on), they provided for the creation of a representative government, where we the people elect leaders to make, execute, and interpret laws. Though the instruments of direct democracy (initiative, referendum, and recall) have existed in Washington for nearly a century, they have never replaced our representative government. Nor were they meant to. Washington is a republic; governed by the people’s duly elected representatives.
Any initiative that seeks to put representative government in a straitjacket is illegitimate by its very nature, no matter how popular it might be. Tim Eyman tries to justify Initiative 1053 by saying that the people have previously voted for similar measures, but this is irrelevant. An initiative abridging free speech might be popular, if it prohibited a widely disliked group of people from exercising their rights, but it would be undemocratic regardless.
What matters is this: Democracy cannot be used to abolish democracy. A majority of people, voting in election, have no authority to take away majority rule and deprive future voters of their rights by enacting laws that contradict our Constitution. Yet that is what happened in 2007, an off-year election, which featured lower turnout than midterm or presidential election years.
And as it so happened, future majorities did not see eye to eye with the narrow majority that approved I-960. The very next year (2008), the people of Washington State elected a legislature and a governor who were opposed to Initiative 960’s unconstitutional shackles. The people further expressed their will by defeating Tim Eyman initiatives two years in a row (I-985 in 2008, I-1033 in 2009). The Legislature and Governor Gregoire, seeing that the people wanted their public services protected, chose to neutralize Initiative 960 as soon as they could so they could carry out the people’s will.
Majority rule is the underlying principle that makes democracy work. When majority rule is compromised, democracy is sabotaged. Minority rights go hand in hand with majority rule, but they are enshrined in our Constitution, which is meant to protect us from mob rule, and has done so throughout our history.
The only legitimate way to change the rules in our democracy is to amend the Constitution, where they are spelled out. Initiatives like I-1053 are in effect an attempt at an end-run around the Constitution by desperate people who would like to modify it to suit their whim, but have no power to do so. We must not allow ourselves to be fooled by their deceptive rhetoric.
Initiative 1053 is Unfair
Had Initiative 960 – which Initiative 1053 is “modeled” upon – been required to meet its own “two-thirds” standard back in 2007 when it was on the ballot, it would have failed miserably. (The yes vote for Initiative 960 was 51%; two-thirds as a percentage is 66.6%). What I-960 did was set up a different and more onerous standard to enact any bill that aimed to strengthen our common wealth.
And that’s a problem: it is unfair to require a supermajority to pass certain types of bills but not others. If the Legislature passed or even considered a law requiring that bills or initiatives imposing supermajority requirements for bills or initiatives meet their own thresholds for passage, the sponsors of Initiative 1053 would hypocritically cry foul.
Initiative 1053 is Unsound
California’s experience has painfully illustrated just how destructive minority rule can be. The Golden State requires two-thirds votes not only to raise revenue, but also to approve budgets. This has caused unparalleled dysfunction and chaos in Sacramento, California’s capital. California’s common wealth and its quality of life have greatly deteriorated as a result, and the state is heavily in debt. It is now widely considered to be ungovernable. The bickering, squabbling, and chronic underfunding of public services has also seriously damaged the state’s business climate.
Things have gotten so bad that there is a movement afoot in California to get rid of the onerous, unworkable minority veto power, and restore majority rule.
Here in Washington, we have the opportunity to reject California-style gridlock before it damages our quality of life. On or before November 2nd, please join supporters of Washington’s Constitution in saying NO to Initiative 1053.