Teachers challenge supermajority rule

August 9, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

As part of the Washington Education Association, unionized Issaquah school teachers are parties to the suit filed late last month challenging the requirement that a positive vote by a supermajority of state legislators is needed to approve future tax increases.

Imposed by voters in November as part of Initiative 1053, the rule resulted from one of the latest initiatives launched by well-known political activist Tim Eyman. The supermajority requirement applies to both houses of the state legislature.

“The state of Washington is not following through on their paramount duty to fully fund education,” said Phyllis Runyon, president of the Issaquah Education Association, the local teachers union. “The state has not fully funded education for years, but with the current economic situation, the funding situation has worsened.”

The state already has some of the largest class sizes in the nation along with some of the lowest per-pupil funding, Runyon added.

“Eyman’s initiative that calls for a two-thirds majority to pass legislation to raise taxes makes the situation far worse,” Runyon continued. “Without new revenue, the state will undoubtedly continue to cut education.”

Opponents specifically argue the rule violates the state constitution, unlawfully impairing the ability of lawmakers to fund public schools.

“Washington’s constitution makes it clear that the state’s paramount duty is to ‘make ample provision’ for the education of every child,” said Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, another party to the lawsuit, which was filed in King County Superior Court.

“This statue and similar measures enacted in recent years, hamstrings our state’s ability to invest in the quality schools our children need,” Korsmo added.

Mary Lindquist is president of the WEA.

“This lawsuit reinforces the priority that must be given to public education in the state of Washington,” she said. “Students, educators, parents and a group of courageous legislators are asking for Tim Eyman’s unconstitutional statute to be overturned by the Supreme Court so our public schools and communities can be stronger.”

Eyman did not return a phone call requesting comment.

In their lawsuit, opponents argue the state constitution makes clear only a majority of legislative votes is needed for the approval of tax measures. The lawsuit also argues a state statute — such as that enacted by I-1053 — cannot amend the state constitution.

A number of state legislators and former Supreme Court Justice Robert Utter joined the suit.

“The question of whether a supermajority requirement to approve legislation is constitutional has gone unanswered for many years,” said State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. “It’s time to get a decision, once and for all.”

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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