Opinion

I-601 ruling just more arrogance from the court

The Washington State Supreme Court is on quite a roll these days in terms of thumbing its nose at both the law and the will of the voters in order to protect the ability of the state’s governing class to keep the tax money flowing regardless of how most of us may feel about it.

Two weeks ago, the court overturned Initiative 747, under which annual property tax increases were limited to 1 percent, by concluding that anyone who votes to restrict the government’s capacity to tax them out of his or her home simply must not understand what they were voting for.

Then, not satisfied by the breathtaking hubris of their earlier ruling, last week the justices outdid themselves by kneecapping Initiative 601, which required the Legislature to pass tax-increase measures by a two-thirds majority or put the question to a public vote.

Technically speaking, Washington State Farm Bureau Federation v. Gregoire didn’t address the constitutionality of I-601. Instead, the court decided to punt on that issue and simply back the Legislature, which had already disregarded the provisions of the initiative.

By way of background, in the decade the voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 601 in 1993, state spending rose on average by 17.3 percent per biennium. Since Initiative 601 became law, however, state spending increases have averaged 8.9 percent — almost half the previous rate of spending increase.

This post-Initiative 601 average includes the past two budgets adopted under Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Democratic majority in Olympia, with their combined 25.1 percent increase in spending.

These budgets were only possible under changes the legislature made to Initiative 601 in 2005, when the lawmakers — frustrated by the limitations imposed by their constituents — voted to simply ignore them and raise taxes anyway.

Although the legislature suspended the supermajority vote requirement for tax increases in 2005 for the 2005-07 biennium, it neglected to suspend Initiative 601’s requirement that when tax increases resulted in expenditures above the spending limit, voter approval would be required.

This led to a lawsuit being filed by the Washington State Farm Bureau, Washington State Grange, National Federation of Independent Business, Building Industry Association of Washington, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, the Washington Association of Realtors and Snohomish County taxpayer Steve Neighbors.

In March 2006, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge James Allendoerfer ruled against the state, saying the Legislature violated Initiative 601 when it adopted the 2005-07 budget and enacted several tax increases without a vote of the people.

This case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which last week — in a 5-4 decision — decreed the Legislature is within its rights to suspend, amend and otherwise shrug its shoulders at what the justices themselves concede is a legally adopted citizen initiative.

Remember, the court didn’t find any problem with the initiative itself. It just didn’t have any problem with the lawmakers flouting it, either.

Justice Mary Fairhurst authored the majority opinion, asserting that, “Washington voters’ statutory ‘right’ to approve taxes that raise revenues in excess of the state expenditure limit is a mere expectation...”

We wonder how many Washington voters, when they were overwhelmingly approving I-601, thought they were expressing their expectations rather than exercising their rights.

Or is this just another example of the court knowing better than we do what was in our hearts when we voted?

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