Supermajority standard has served us well

Remember that nasty little kid on the playground when you were a kid, the one nobody liked? Remember how whenever he or she lost, they threw a tantrum and accused the winners of cheating?

Chances are that kid would support the bill passed last week by the Washington state House of Representatives that would change the requirement for passing school levies from a super majority of 60 percent to a simple majority.

HJR-4204, which passed handily in the Democrat-dominated House, now goes on the Senate, where similar measures have been defeated in recent years by the Republican majority there. Should it succeed in the Senate, however, the measure would go before the public during next November’s general election — where its prospects are uncertain.

Let’s be clear here: Being opposed to making changes to the election process isn’t necessarily the same thing as being opposed to school levies. We’ve endorsed school levies in the past but believe each measure should be decided on its individual merits rather than taking a blanket approach and reflexively supporting every levy that comes along.

And since there isn’t a levy on the ballot at the moment, the issue here is simply whether the standard for levy passage should be reduced, and we don’t believe it should.

School levies, like fire and emergency services levies, are required to meet a higher standard than other elections because they are funded through property taxes, which only a percentage of the voters — namely property owners — pay.

That’s been the standard in Washington since the Great Depression and — unless you ask levy backers, who haven’t won as often as they’d like — it’s a standard that’s served the schools and the taxpayers equally well.

One last thing about the supermajority. It isn’t undemocratic, as many of its critics claim, since the rule was itself adopted by a simple majority and could be repealed, in the Legislature and by the voters, with a simple majority.

It’s too late for the House, but we don’t believe the Senate should reduce the Washington state legislative process to the level of a schoolyard tantrum by changing the rules in the middle of the game for someone who can’t win any other way.

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