.The Republicans in the Washington State Senate when the Legislature convenes on Monday Jan 12, 2014 will try to bypass the Washington State Constitution calling for majority votes to pass legislation. Two Republicans – Doug Erickson of Bellingham and Mike Baumgartner of Spokane – have announced that they intend to try to amend Senate Rules to require a 2/3 vote of the Senate to bring any legislation calling for a tax increase to the floor for a vote. In a great display of hypocrisy, this vote will require by their calculation only a majority of Senators to pass it.
Republicans in the Senate have a 26 to 23 majority but it seems they are not content with even that – wanting to give 1/3 of the sitting Senators veto power over the other 2/3. Thus a minority of 17 Senators, if this rule change passes, would have veto power over the wishes of 32 Senators – a clear coup of rule by the minority. As the Spokesman Review’s Jim Camden notes ” This would cover bills with new taxes …, raises in existing taxes and reduction or elimination in tax exemptions, sometimes known as loopholes — unless they had a referendum clause that was sending them to the ballot for voter approval”
This rule would require that any attempt to repeal non performing tax exemptions or reduce the exemption would also need to have a 2/3 vote to come to the senate floor for a vote. In again a twisted sense of majority rules it would only require a simple majority to pass a tax exemption. All of the current 650 plus tax exemptions in place only required a majority vote. Yet even if the Legislature through its JLARC review process determined that a specific exemption was not resulting in any benefit to state taxpayers, like increasing state employment and jobs, 1/3 of the members of the Senate could prevent the exemption being cut. This is the power of minority rule – whereby even if a majority wants to eliminate a tax exemption because it is not benefiting the state or meeting state priorities, the minority position wins.
The framers of the US Constitution looked at this issue in the Federalist papers. Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers No.#22 noted:
“To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser.”
“…The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy.”
Ironic isn’t it that Republicans who profess they want to uphold the Constitution would try to impose rules of legislative action that run opposite of what the framers of the US Constitution felt that government needed to do to be effective. Majority rules for legislative action must be adhered to in passing legislation, not the imposition of rule by a minority to impose their will on the majority.
The Washington State Supreme Court has already ruled on the issue of majority votes being required for passing legislation. It has ruled that requiring a supermajority like a 2/3 vote of all legislators is unconstitutional. This latest Republican proposed attempt to circumvent the Washington State Constitution shows the repeated hypocrisy of those that profess the need to adhere to the Constitution, in this case the Washington State Constitution, but repeatedly attempt to come up with ways to bypass it or ignore it to further their personal political agenda.
Voters need to take note of Washington Legislators like Senators Ericksen and Baumgartner who are not willing to abide by the intent and language of the Washington State Constitution and the Washington State Supreme Court and vote them out of office.
cross posted on Majority Rules –