Opinion

Super-majority standard has served us well

The good news about the “simple majority” legislation passed during this year’s session by lawmakers in Olympia is that the voters are at least going to get a say in it — which is more than they got on the domestic partnership issue despite voting down same-sex marriage and having that vote upheld last year by the state Supreme Court.

The bad news is we’re now going to be subjected to a barrage of emotional appeals by the well-financed Washington state teachers’ lobby designed to tug at the heart strings.

And given the current climate in the state, it’s entirely possible this unnecessary and ill-advised measure could win approval.

Just to recap, state lawmakers drafted a proposed constitutional amendment to lower the vote requirement to pass local school levies, dropping it to 50 percent plus one rather than the super-majority requirement the state has imposed since the 1930s.

Voters statewide now must approve House Joint Resolution 4204 to enact the proposal, making it easier to raise local property-tax money for K-12 schools.

Seattle’s Stefan Sharkansky, blogging on his Soundpolitics.com website, accurately characterizes the rationale behind a simple-majority requirement as two-fold.

First, there’s the “It’s only fair” argument, which translates to: “Somebody’s else’s vote to confiscate your wealth has the same moral weight as your vote to keep your wealth.”

Secondly, there’s the “It’s for the children” argument, which he defines as: “Washington’s government schools are doing such an excellent job of educating children that they deserve to be further insulated from public accountability.”

Our objection falls closer to the former than the latter.

Historically speaking, the supermajority requirement was enacted during the Depression, when property tended to be concentrated in the hands of relatively few people. The thinking then was that there needed to be some limit on the ability of a majority to vote tax increases onto the minority.

While a larger percentage of voters own property today than did in the 1930s, the principle of applying a high — but not impossible — standard to any measure that takes money out of the pockets of people who don’t willingly offer it and may not be able to afford it has served the state well for 70 years and ought not be discarded lightly.

Here in South Kitsap, it’s true the most recent school bond would have passed had the standard been a simple majority. But over the years, other measures have gotten the needed 60 percent, proving that when the need is great enough or the case for doing so made persuasively enough, people will dip into their own pockets to do the right thing.

The question is what threshold to set for when it’s appropriate for dipping your hands into someone else’s pocket. And from where we sit, there’s nothing wrong with setting that bar at 60 percent.

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