Category Archives: In the Courts

Two-thirds is *not* a majority: New pictogram explains what I-1185, lawsuit against I-1053 are really about

From the Campaign TrailIn the CourtsRethinking and Reframing

Today, NPI’s Permanent Defense is releasing a new pictogram that explains what Initiative 1185 and the lawsuit against I-1053 are really about.

Inspired by NPI’s late board member Lynn Allen, the artist and storyteller who created a similar visual for NPI’s 2010 video explaining the cost and consequences of I-1053, the pictogram shows how the two-thirds scheme embraced by Tim Eyman and big oil companies like BP and Royal Dutch Shell is preventing our Legislature from functioning as our founders intended it to.

What I-1185 and the lawsuit against I-1053 are really about
Click on thumbnail to see larger image

On the left side of the pictogram is an illustration of what happens when Article II, Section 22 of our state Constitution is in force. Fifty votes (out of ninety-eight total) are sufficient to pass a revenue bill in the House, and twenty-five votes (out of forty-nine total) are sufficient to pass a revenue bill in the Senate.

On the right side of the pictogram is an illustration of what the two-thirds scheme does when it it allowed to illegitimately take precedence over Article II, Section 22. Power is unconstitutionally and undemocratically transferred to a minority – specifically, thirty-three representatives in the House and seventeen senators in the Senate – who gain veto power over the majority.

The words “control outcome” are used in the pictogram to explain who really has power in each situation. When the Legislature operates in accordance with the rules from our Constitution, the majority prevails, because a majority vote is sufficient to pass a bill – even a bill that raises revenue. But when Tim Eyman and Big Oil’s rules are substituted for the Constitution’s rules, control of the outcome passes into the hands of just a few lawmakers, who can override their colleagues.

“This pictogram gives meaning to the adage,  ‘A picture is worth a thousand words'”, said NPI founder Andrew Villeneuve. “It is hard to quickly explain to voters the destructive impact that I-960 and I-1053 have had on our state. But this pictogram tells the story, through simple stick figures and easy-to-read fractions.”

“What the pictogram tells us is that above all, this two-thirds scam has sabotaged our plan of government and prevented our Legislature from operating democratically as it always should. It has changed the decision-making process.”

“That has been the most important consequence. The damage isn’t necessarily visible, but it’s there all of the same… beneath the surface.”

“Tim Eyman has a simple slogan he has been using for years, for I-960, for I-1053, and now I-1185: ‘We can’t trust Olympia, so let’s make it tougher for politicians to raise taxes.’ As far as sound bites go, it’s short, but it’s definitely not sweet. The word sour would be a more fitting descriptor. It’s a manipulative sales pitch that reeks of cynicism and improvidence. It should be obvious by now that Eyman thrives on distrust in government; he has an interest in sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt in people’s minds. It’s good for business.”

“Eyman wants people to think that state government is the problem, so they’ll overlook the fact that his initiative factory is funded by powerful corporations like BP, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell.”

“These corporations want to trample all over our state Constitution so their lobbyists can wield even more power in our state’s capital than they already do.”

“From looking at the pictogram, we can see that requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenue is not democratic. The phrase ‘two-thirds majority’ is a misnomer because two-thirds is not a majority. It’s a supermajority. And here’s the thing: A supermajority is actually the inverse of a submajority, which even Rob McKenna’s office agrees is not a majority. Requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenue, in practice, means that just over one-third of the lawmakers of each house control the outcome. They can say no to everybody else.”

It is worth noting that our Constitution itself cannot be altered by majority vote. But that is because it is our highest law. It is the sacred document that protects minority rights. As recent research by Perkins Coie’s David Perez shows, our founders debated where and when to require supermajorities; they knew that in any instance where a higher threshold was put in place, the minority would control the outcome.

The rules they gave us say a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote, but bills require just a majority vote. That way, we have majority rule with minority rights. And by majority vote, our founders meant greater than fifty percent.

No more, no less.

What I-1185 and the lawsuit against I-1053 are really about is this: Will we uphold Washington’s Constitution or not? If we care about the rule of law and the plan of government our founders gave us, we ought to reject I-1185 at the ballot, and our Supreme Court ought to uphold Judge Bruce Heller’s ruling striking down I-1053.

Tim Eyman claims he’s “optimistic” that Supreme Court will side with him in lawsuit against I-1053

In the CourtsRethinking and Reframing

Tomorrow, the highest court of law in the State of Washington – the Supreme Court – will hear oral argument in League of Education Voters et. al. v. State of Washington, the legal challenge against Tim Eyman’s I-1053 originally filed over a year ago in King County Superior Court by a coalition of parents, teachers, and lawmakers.

As was predicted when the case was filed, it has now reached the state Supreme Court on appeal. Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office is asking the Court to throw out the decision reached by widely respected Judge Bruce E. Heller, who found that I-1053 was unconstitutional and void in its entirety.

The plaintiffs in the case, represented by Paul Lawrence, are asking the Court to sustain Heller’s ruling and strike I-1053 from the Revised Code of Washington.

I-1053 sponsor Tim Eyman is not directly involved in the litigation (the attorney general’s office is required by law to defend initiatives) but, as usual, he is cheering on Rob McKenna, whose legal team is asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the case on a technicality, and failing that, find I-1053 constitutional.

Eyman sent out an email earlier today listing several reasons why he’s “optimistic” the Court will side with him and overturn Heller’s decision… either based on a technicality, or on the merits. He all but declares victory prematurely, equating the case against I-1053 to Brown v. Owen, the last lawsuit to challenge the two-thirds scheme to raise revenue that Eyman has turned into his own pet cause.

Let’s go through Eyman’s reasons and add some context and commentary, shall we?

Reason number one:

EYMAN:  Just two years ago, a unanimous state supreme court rejected a very similar lawsuit under very similar circumstances (one chamber passed a tax increase and a lawsuit was filed challenging the two-thirds).  That 9-0 opinion, authored by Justice Mary Fairhurst, the most liberal justice on the state supreme court, resulted in a “finding this a political question” that should be resolved through the legislative process.

Here Eyman is referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Owen. The Court held in that case that it could not grant Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (the plaintiff) a writ of mandamus ordering Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen (the defendant) to forward a revenue-raising bill that had achieved a majority vote  to the House of Representative (even though the bill had achieved the constitutionally required majority).

Owen, interpreting Initiative 960, had ruled that the bill in question needed a two-thirds vote to pass, in accordance with the initiative, even though Article II, Section 22 says that the standard for passage of bills is a majority vote. Brown then took Owen to court, hoping to get the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of I-960. The Court declined to do so. But in dismissing the action, it did not find I-960 to be constitutional.

Nor did the Court say, as Eyman seems to be suggesting by quoting one phrase from the decision, that the issue of whether I-960 was constitutional was not appropriate for the court to decide. In fact, the Court reminded all parties in the case that judicial review is the job of the judiciary:

While serving as the presiding officer of the senate, the lieutenant governor is an officer of the legislative branch. State ex rel. Lemon v. Langlie, 45 Wn.2d 82, 98, 273 P.2d 464 (1954). It is beyond the power of the legislature to rule that a law it has enacted is unconstitutional. Wash. State Farm Bureau, 162 Wn.2d at 303-04 (“‘[T]he legislature is precluded by the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers from making judicial determinations.’” (alteration in original) (quoting O’Brien, 85 Wn.2d at 271)).

This case is like Brown v. Owen in that it challenges the constitutionality of an initiative requiring two-thirds votes for bills that raise revenue, but in other respects, it is quite different. For instance, the relief requested is not a writ of mandamus. As Judge Bruce Heller explained in his opinion striking down I-1053:

This case represents the first constitutional challenge to the supermajority and mandatory referendum requirements brought before a trial court. Unlike Walker and Brown, the plaintiffs are asking for declaratory relief instead of a writ of mandamus. In other words, they are requesting a ruling regarding the constitutionality of a statute, as opposed to an order requiring another branch of government to perform or refrain from performing an act.

Judge Heller concluded that the request for declaratory relief was properly brought, and proceeded to consider whether I-1053 was constitutional. He determined that it was not.

The takeaway is that this case – the LEV case –  is dissimilar in important ways from Brown v. Owen, contrary to what Tim Eyman has said. In Brown, the Senate Majority Leader asked the Supreme Court itself to reach the issue of I-960’s constitutionality by granting her application for a writ of mandamus. The Court deemed the request improper, so it did not consider whether I-96o was constitutional (I-1053, its successor, was not in effect at the time). In LEV, a diverse coalition of plaintiffs went to a trial court first for declaratory relief, which was granted. No writ of mandamus was asked for.

On to Eyman’s second reason:

EYMAN: In 1994, the Court found that individual legislators and special interest groups lack standing to bring lawsuits like this (“When a statute may be amended by the very persons the Petitioners claim are being harmed, state legislators, we cannot do otherwise than find that this is only a speculative dispute.”).

Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office made this same argument to Judge Heller in urging that the case be dismissed, but Judge Heller found that the plaintiffs did, in fact, have standing. Here is his reasoning:

Plaintiffs have established standing to bring this action. A plaintiff has standing to challenge a statute’s constitutionality if he or she can show that (1) the “interest sought to be protected . . is arguably within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute or constitutional guarantee in question” and (2) a “sufficient factual injury.” Seattle School Dist., 90 Wn.2d at 493-94. The legislator plaintiffs have an interest in advancing bills through the legislative process with the constitutionally required number of votes. The non-legislator plaintiffs have an interest in the adequate funding of education. The legislator plaintiffs allege that they have suffered injury because they have been unable to address funding gaps in education. The plaintiffs from the educational community allege that cuts in educational funding and services have resulted in substantial harm to educators, teachers, students and education groups, such as the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs Kim Bielski and Ryan Painter, for example, are teachers who lost their jobs as a result of budget cuts.

On to Eyman’s third reason:

EYMAN: The tax increase they tried to pass last year was approved this year, arguably making their current lawsuit moot.

It’s telling that Eyman threw in the word “arguably”. This lawsuit is far from being moot. As Eyman well knows, the purpose of the two-thirds scheme is to allow a minority of legislators to undemocratically wield veto power over bills that raise revenue. The two-thirds scheme has been used – and will continue to be used – to block legislation that would fund vital state services if it is not struck down. As Judge Heller notes:

Since Walker, 18 years have passed. During this time, except for brief periods when the legislature suspended it, the supermajority requirement has been in effect. In McCleary, the Supreme Court described the legislature’s inability to fund constitutionally required basic K-12 education. 173 Wn.2d at 532-37. SBH 2078, which would have provided funds to reduce K-3 class size, failed to pass in the House because of the supermajority requirement. The inability of the House to pass this legislation with a simple majority demonstrates that the dispute over the constitutionality of the supermajority requirement is an actual one with known consequences.

On to Eyman’s fourth reason:

EYMAN: Lawsuits like this aren’t valid if the Legislature doesn’t exhaust all their remedies before going to court. They could have appealed the ruling of the Chair and passed the tax increase; they didn’t.

Again, contrary to what Eyman implies, the Legislature is not the plaintiff in this case. The plaintiffs are a coalition of groups and individuals, of which the League of Education Voters (LEV) is named first. The League and its members are not legislators; they did not have the ability to appeal the ruling of the presiding officer of the House of Representatives (who, incidentally, holds the title of Speaker, not Chair).

Rob McKenna’s legal team made this same argument in Superior Court as well (noticing a pattern here?), and Judge Heller shot it down:

According to the State [represented by Rob McKenna’s office], under House rules a majority of the legislators could have overruled the Speaker’s ruling that RCW 43.135.034(1) required the vote of two-thirds of the members and passed SHB 2078 by a majority.

This argument reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the respective roles of the judiciary and the legislature. It is for the courts, not the legislature, to determine the constitutionality of a statute. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177 (1803)(“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is”). Our Supreme Court affirmed this principle in Brown, emphasizing that under the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, the legislature may not rule a law it has enacted to be unconstitutional. 165 Wn.2d at 726-27. Accordingly, this court will not require the legislature to pass a tax bill in contravention of the statute’s supermajority requirement as a precondition for the court’s exercising jurisdiction over this dispute.

Phew. Okay, we’re almost done. Here’s the fifth reason on Eyman’s list:

EYMAN: A law is constitutional unless the Constitution expressly prohibits it. Our Constitution does not.

This is not how constitutional law works. A statute that conflicts with any part of the Constitution is unconstitutional, period. Article I, Section 29 declares:

The provisions of this Constitution are mandatory, unless by express words they are declared to be otherwise.

For instance:

SECTION 22. 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.

The crux of the dispute in this case is whether I-1053 violates the above provision (Article II, Section 22), as well as Article II, Section 1.

Judge Heller found that I-1053 violates both provisions.

One more to go! Number six:

EYMAN: For a lawsuit to be valid, the dispute must be “between parties having genuine and opposing interests” that are “direct and substantial.”  The Attorney General has a job to do, defend initiatives, but in my view, their office lacks the direct and substantial interest needed to surpass this threshold.

We’re not sure what point Eyman is attempting to make here. Whose “office” is he referring to when he says “their office”? There is more than one plaintiff, and many of the plaintiffs are not elected officials. As we’ve already observed, this dispute is over a matter that is in fact real and justiciable. That is precisely why Judge Heller granted the plaintiffs the declaratory relief they asked for back in May.

To quote Judge Heller one final time:

A justiciable controversy is one that is (1) an actual, present, and existing dispute, (2) between parties having genuine and opposing interests, (3) which interests are direct and substantial, and (4) a judicial determination of which will be final and conclusive. To-Ro Trade Shows, 144 Wn.2d at 411. The parties in this matter plainly have genuinely and opposing interests, and a judicial ruling on the constitutionality of the supermajority and mandatory referendum requirements will constitute a final and conclusive resolution of this dispute.

We agree with Judge Heller. This argument has been festering for years; it is time for the matter to be resolved. As established in Marbury v. Madison long ago, only the courts have the ability to decide whether a law is constitutional or not. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit are asking the Supreme Court to consider whether I-1053 violates longstanding provisions of our state’s highest law, including Article II, Section 22. They are not asking the Court to settle a parliamentary dispute in the Legislature.

Several months ago, the Court had an opportunity to stay Judge Heller’s decision when it took up the case. It did not, even though it was asked to by Rob McKenna. That means that I-1053 is currently not in effect. Here’s a question worth pondering: If the justices felt that Heller’s decision was way off base, wouldn’t they have granted McKenna’s request for a stay? It is not unusual for such requests to be granted.

And yet, in this instance, the Court said no. They have let Heller’s decision stand even as they take up the matter. That gives us reason to hope that they will ultimately uphold his decision, striking down this two-thirds nonsense once and for all.

POSTSCRIPT: It is worth mentioning that last month, Eyman himself asked a court of law for a writ of mandamus… he wanted to force the Office of Financial Management to retract its fiscal impact statement for Initiative 1185 and replace it with a statement saying there was no fiscal impact at all. The judge who heard the case turned Eyman down and threw out his suit. The irony of Eyman’s prayer for relief in that case was immediately apparent to us when we read the brief Eyman’s friends at Groen & Stephens helped him write… though it may not have been obvious to Eyman, who has a penchant for sponsoring unconstitutional initiatives.

Tim Eyman’s lawsuit against the Office of Financial Management is without merit

In the CourtsRethinking and Reframing

Last week, as required by law, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) completed and published its fiscal impact statement for Initiative 1185, Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to mess up the plan of government that our founders gave us at statehood.

As we have previously noted, Initiative 1185 basically attempts to do two things:

  • Restate the unconstitutional, undemocratic provision of I-1053 that says any combination of actions that results in higher revenue need a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature, and…
  • …  Restate the provision of I-1053 that requires the Legislature to vote on fee increases.

OFM determined that this second provision in I-1185 (the one that pertains to fees) would prevent some already-scheduled toll and fee increases from going into effect, unless the Legislature intervened.

Consequently, OFM attached a price tag to Initiative 1185, estimating that adoption of the initiative would cost the state between $22 and $33 million over the next five years. OFM also concluded that “requiring new legislative approval to impose fees will also prevent implementation of certain businesses and health care certifications.” The agency has calculated that without implementation of those certifications, $2.7 million in revenue will be eliminated, and $3.6 million in expenses will also be eliminated.

Tim Eyman, who is showrunning I-1185 on behalf of powerful, greedy corporations like BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell, and Tesoro, is very unhappy that OFM has exposed what was previously a hidden cost of I-1053 and now I-1185. So he’s filed suit against the state demanding that he and his lawyers be allowed to rewrite the fiscal impact statement to wrongly claim that I-1185 will have no fiscal impact.

Hilariously, Eyman is asking Thurston County Superior Court James Dixon to grant him a writ of mandamus to force the Office of Financial Management to issue a new fiscal impact statement declaring that I-1185 will have no fiscal impact. Failing that, Eyman wants a writ of prohibition to block Secretary of State Sam Reed from including OFM’s already-completed statement in the voters’ pamphlet.

Eyman will be representing himself in court this Friday to argue his case (and no, we’re not making this up), because apparently his corporate backers weren’t interested in paying for someone who actually understands the law (and has been admitted to the bar to practice it) to represent Eyman. Eyman did get help from his friends at Groen & Stepehens to prepare a brief in advance of the court hearing, in which Eyman states the following:

Plaintiff is concerned about inaccurate assumptions expressed in voters’ pamphlet for  two reasons. First, inaccuracies might mislead the voters about what the measure actually does and Washington Courts have been vigilant in avoiding voter confusion. In several cases, the Washington Supreme Court has explained its concern with the potential misleading nature have been vigilant in avoiding voter confusion.

Wait a second. Hasn’t Tim always argued that the voters are smart enough to know when they’re being misled? If OFM is deliberately attempting to deceive the public – as Master Deceiver Tim Eyman says they are – then we’ve got nothing to worry about. The voters will see right through them when it comes time to make a decision on I-1185.

Seriously, though, it’s beyond ironic that Tim Eyman is expressing concern about “inaccuracies” that “might mislead the voters about what the measure actually does”. Tim has been misleading the voters and the press about the true costs and consequences of his initiatives for years.

We’ve seen it firsthand – we’ve been responding to his fabrications for more than a decade. Tim is a very slick salesman … nobody is more effective at spreading misinformation about state government than he is.

This lawsuit is merely Tim’s latest attempt to spread misinformation. What he is trying to do is mask some of the harm that his initiative would cause by hiding OFM’s analysis from the people of the State of Washington.

OFM has a duty to the people and the elected leaders of Washington State to accurately identify and describe fiscal impacts of proposed initiatives.

In 2010, prior to the adoption of Initiative 1053, the agency determined that enactment of I-1053 would not have a direct fiscal impact. At the time, I-1053 was not law, so OFM was making an educated guess about the initiative.

As it turned out, the fee provision of I-1053 (which was not present in I-1053’s predecessor, I-960) did have a direct fiscal impact, so OFM appropriately took that into account when preparing the fiscal impact statement for I-1185.

Tim Eyman is now asking a court to force OFM to not account for its prior mistake – in other words, to not make use of what it has learned about I-1053 since I-1053 went into effect – because he does not want the truth about the consequences of I-1053’s clone I-1185 to be known and to be discussed.

Eyman’s lawsuit is completely without merit. OFM has not committed any wrongdoing. The agency should not be compelled to reissue its fiscal impact statement for I-1185 simply because Tim Eyman doesn’t like it.

Attorney General Rob McKenna – whose office has often defended Eyman’s initiatives (including I-1053 and I-960) in court – has asked Judge James Dixon to deny Eyman’s motion and dismiss the case with prejudice. The brief authored by Steve Dietrich in response to Eyman’s complaint makes it plainly clear that Eyman’s requests for writs of mandamus and prohibition are unwarranted:

Plaintiff argues that one particular assumption that OFM decided to include in the fiscal impact statement is subjective, “inaccurate,” “erroneous,” or “defective” and that it may influence future judicial construction of 1-1185. Plaintiff fundamentally misapprehends the nature of assumptions and the purpose of a fiscal impact statement. A fiscal impact statement is an estimate of the fiscal consequences of a proposed ballot measure if enacted into law, based on assumptions concerning its operation and activities of state government. By definition, assumptions are premises that may or may not hold true. An assumption is “[a] statement accepted or supposed true without proof or demonstration.” American Heritage Dictionary 80 (new college ed. 1982). Voters can judge OFM’s assumptions for themselves and determine whether they agree with them; and certainly, proponents and opponents of the measure may take issue with OFM’ s assumptions and estimates in the public debate that surrounds a ballot measure election. But the assumptions may not be challenged in an action in mandamus.

Because OFM’s responsibility under RCW 29A.72.025 to determine the content of the fiscal impact statement requires the exercise of discretion, Plaintiff’s action for a writ of mandamus must fail. The writ is not available to force OFM to make any particular assumption and Plaintiff’s petition and motion should be denied. For the same reason, Plaintiff’s argument taking issue with one particular OFM assumption is irrelevant. The decision about whether it is necessary to assume something about the effect of the measure for the purpose of making the estimate represents the exercise of OFM’s discretion. The decision about the substance of necessary assumption also involves the exercise of discretion.

Courts have historically been reluctant to issue writs of mandamus or prohibition when asked. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown found this out several years ago when the Supreme Court refused to grant her request for a writ of mandamus to overturn Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen’s ruling upholding I-960’s unconstitutional two-thirds requirement in the Senate. (Owen and Brown had been hoping that the court would strike I-960 down as unconstitutional so that the Legislature would be free to democratically deal with the state’s budget shortfall). The Court declined to act, reasoning:

While serving as the presiding officer of the senate, the lieutenant governor is an officer of the legislative branch. State ex rel. Lemon v. Langlie, 45 Wn.2d 82, 98, 273 P.2d 464 (1954). It is beyond the power of the legislature to rule that a law it has enacted is unconstitutional. Wash. State Farm Bureau, 162 Wn.2d at 303-04 (“‘[T]he legislature is precluded by the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers from making judicial determinations.’” (alteration in original) (quoting O’Brien, 85 Wn.2d at 271)).

Owen acted properly by declining to decide the constitutionality of RCW 43.135.035(1) and did not exceed his authority or abuse his discretion by ruling on a point of order consistent with RCW 43.135.035(1). Because we find the duties at issue are discretionary and find no abuse of discretion, we hold that a writ of mandamus would be improper.

Emphasis is ours.

The Court’s decision not to act in that case benefited Eyman, because it did not find his two-thirds scheme to be unconstitutional. (The Court will have another opportunity to do so later this year after it has heard oral arguments in the lawsuit against I-1053).

Ironically, Eyman is now the one asking the judiciary for a writ of mandamus (and, failing that, a writ of prohibition).

If Judge Dixon applies precedent and sense to this case, he will conclude that Eyman’s motion ought to be denied, and the case dismissed.

Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal of Judge Heller’s decision in LEV v. State

In the Courts

As expected, the Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of Judge Bruce Heller’s May decision striking down Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053 in its entirety. The appeal was filed by Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office, which is defending the state against the lawsuit.

In a two-page order, the court unanimously accepted the case for review, but refused to grant McKenna’s request for a stay of Judge Heller’s decision. What that means is that Judge Heller’s decision will remain in force for the time being. I-1053 is not in effect; if Governor Gregoire called the Legislature into session next week, the Legislature could democratically raise revenue by majority vote like it’s supposed to be able to do.

The text of the order was as follows:

This matter came before the Court on its July 11, 2012, En Banc Conference and the Court having unanimously determined that the following order should be entered:

Now, therefore, it is hereby

ORDERED: The above reference matter will be retained for decision by the Supreme Court. The RESPONDENT’S MOTION FOR EXPEDITED REVIEW is granted. The STATE’S MOTION FOR STAY PENDING APPEAL is denied.

DATED at Olympia, Washington this 12th day of July, 2012.

For the Court,

Barbara Madsen
Chief Justice

The Court will likely hear oral arguments in the case sometime during the fall.

Memo to the Seattle Times: Majority vote means fifty percent plus one – no more, no less!

Election PostmortemIn the CourtsRethinking and Reframing

The following is the text of the letter to the editor sent by NPI to the Seattle Times in response to the Times’ Sunday editorial urging the state Supreme Court not to strike down I-1053 if it receives an opportunity to do so.

In your Sunday, June 5th editorial (State’s two-thirds rule on taxes should be retained), you contend that Tim Eyman and BP’s Initiative 1053 (which violates Article II, Section 22) could pass constitutional muster:

The constitution does say a majority, but it uses negative language. It says, ‘No bill shall become a law’ without a majority. The state’s Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, argues that this sets a minimum standard, and that the voters, through the initiative process, may temporarily raise it.

A similar argument was made by proponents of a 1053-like measure in Alaska several years ago, and rejected by Alaska’s Supreme Court in Alaskans for Efficient Government v. State of Alaska (2007). “Other courts interpreting constitutional language have wisely refrained from attributing any automatic significance to the distinction between negative and positive phrasing,” the Court ruled.

Referring to the proponents (Alaskans for Efficient Government), the Court added:

AFEG’s logic would just as readily compel the anomalous conclusion that section 14 was meant to set a ceiling but not a floor — that a majority vote would be the maximum needed to enact any bill, but the legislature would remain free to specify a sub-majority vote as sufficient to enact laws dealing with specified subjects, as it saw fit.

Majority vote means fifty percent plus one. No more, no less. There is no minimum standard. There is only the standard the founders intended – the only standard that makes sense in a democracy.

Our founders knew when it was appropriate to use supermajorities to protect minority rights from mob rule. Wherever a supermajority is required, the Constitution spells it out. But there is no reference to supermajorities in Article II, Section 22. That’s because the founders intended for a majority vote to decide the fate of all bills – not just some bills.

Initiative 1053 is a slippery slope. Unless it is struck down, we will not be protected against future copycat measures that undemocratically tie lawmakers’ hands and prevent our republic from functioning as it was designed to.

The Times gravely errs in attempting to justify its support of an initiative that dangerously undermines our plan of government.

POSTSCRIPT: The Seattle Times has published this letter online.

Statement on the invalidation of Initiative 747

In the CourtsStatements & Advisories

The Northwest Progressive Institute and Permanent Defense this morning applauded the State Supreme Court’s invalidation of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747, which placed draconian limits on property taxes in 2001. The Court upheld a lower court decision which found the initiative unconstitutional.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the people of the State of Washington,” said NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve. “Neither the Legislature nor initiative sponsors have the right to mislead voters with inaccurately drafted law. The Supreme Court has affirmed once again that Tim Eyman’s habit of cutting corners with poorly conceived language is not acceptable.”

“Our state’s Constitution is a meaningless document unless its protections are enforced,” Villeneuve added. “No statute may violate the Constitution for any reason. Those who sponsor initiatives for a living are bound to abide by the same rules that the Legislature must follow. Citizen lawmaking, like the privilege of serving in the Legislature, carries with it huge responsibility.”

PREVIOUS EYMAN INITIATIVES DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL:

  • I-695 (1999): Slashing vehicle fees
  • I-722 (2000): Slashing property taxes

EYMAN’S RECORD — FULL OF FAILURES

Besides the court invalidations of I-695 and I-722, Tim Eyman’s record is full of defeats:

  • I-745 (2000): Tried to redirect transportation funding to roads, defeated by voters
  • I-776 (2002): Failed to stop Sound Transit’s light rail project or eliminate bonds (the main intent)
  • I-267 (2002): Tried to redirect transportation funding to roads, never qualified for the ballot
  • I-807 (2003): Initiative 960’s more recent predecessor never qualified for the ballot
  • I-864 (2004): Tried to slash property taxes, never qualified for the ballot
  • I-892 (2004): Tried to expand gambling, defeated by voters
  • I-900 (2005): Gave the state auditor too much power to conduct performance audits. Approved.
  • I-917 (2006): Tried to slash vehicle fees, never qualified for the ballot
  • R-65 (2006): Tried to legalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, never qualified for the ballot

For more information, check out the complete Failure Chart.

I-960 lawsuit will continue for now

In the Courts

Our parent organization’s blog reports that Futurewise and SEIU 775 – the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to block Tim Eyman’s initiative from being considered by voters – have filed an emergency motion for accelerated review with the state Supreme Court because the Superior Court refused to actually consider the issues at hand.

That’s good news, but the Court still has to take the case.

MORE (JULY 25th): A number of articles have appeared recently in Washington media outlets conveying the idea that Tim Eyman’s I-960 has overcome all obstacles and is now guaranteed to go before the voters of Washington State. Despite I-960’s passage of a random sample check conducted by the Secretary of State’s office, the initiative is still not cleared for placement on the ballot yet because Futurewise and SEIU 775 have appealed Judge Catherine Shaffer’s decision to allow I-960 to proceed. The lawsuit thus continues while the state Supreme Court decides whether to hear the case.

“If the Supreme Court accepts the case, it is our hope that it will set a precedent that checks abuse of the initiative process and upholds the rule of law,” said NPI Executive Director and Permanent Defense Chair Andrew Villeneuve.

“The initiative process has limitations for good reason. It cannot, for instance, be used to amend the U.S. Constitution. An initiative that attempted to covertly amend the U.S. Constitution would be struck down by the Courts and not allowed to go before voters. Likewise, I-960, which contains language that is in conflict with our state’s Constitution, ought to be nullified.”

Statement on the Initiative 747 ruling by Judge Roberts

In the CourtsStatements & Advisories

Permanent Defense today applauded the decision of King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts, who ruled that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747 was unconstitutional.

“It’s a very simple concept: Washington State laws, including initiatives passed by voters, cannot violate the state Constitution,” said Permanent Defense Chair Andrew Villeneuve. “We agree with the judge and believe her reasoning in this case is sound.”

“What’s more, Initiative 747 has already caused significant damage to communities throughout Washington State,” Villeneuve added. “Police and fire departments, libraries, parks, pools, and other public services have been badly hurt by I-747.”

“Not only are Tim Eyman’s initiatives bad for public services and bad for our communities, but they are poorly written and out of compliance with our state’s constitution.”

According to the Department of Revenue, the loss to the state property tax totals $226,923,000 for the 2005-2007 biennium while losses to local taxing districts total $571,496,000. That’s $571 million dollars – an enormous sum of money. The loss to local governments in 2006 alone is some $285 million dollars (PDF).

Incidentally, there are several conflicts of interest in this court case: Attorney General Rob McKenna, who has (so far) unsuccessfully defended I-747 for the state, was a coauthor of the initiative. The other initiative coauthor is Jim Johnson. Johnson currently sits on the state Supreme Court, which may hear this case on appeal.

Permanent Defense will be calling for Johnson to recuse himself from the case if the state Supreme Court agrees to hear the appeal.

Whitman County, nonprofits sue to invalidate Initiative 747

In the Courts

Good news from the Puget Sound Business Journal:

Whitman County and a coalition of nonprofit groups are suing the state, arguing that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747, which capped state and local property tax increase at 1 percent per year, is unconstitutional.

At a hearing in King County Superior Court on Friday, June 2, the plaintiffs will argue that I-747 didn’t accurately describe the law it would amend and that the initiative’s ballot title didn’t accurately describe its subject. The group said similar arguments were used to invalidate Initiative 695, another Eyman initiative aimed at reducing car-tab taxes to $30.

The lawsuit is brought by Whitman County and several nonprofits, including Washington Citizen Action, the Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition, and Futurewise, the group formerly known as 1,000 Friends of Washington.

I-747 created a funding crisis for local and state governments, the group said.

“Initiative 747 has taken a dramatic toll on small county governments like those east of the mountains,” said Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch. “Under this initiative, our revenue simply cannot keep up with inflation and we are being forced to cut critical services.”

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