Today in the Senate, my colleague Sen. Margarita Prentice introduced Senate Bill 6843 to amend Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960 and allow a majority of legislators to pursue a balanced approach to close this year’s budget gap. These are unprecedented times for our state, and we legislators need all the tools at our disposal to make sure our solutions for dealing with this crisis improve rather than damage our state’s future.
After closing a $9 billion budget hole last year using an all-cuts approach, majority Democrats in the Senate agree that another all-cuts budget this year would create far more problems for our state than it would solve. That’s why we need to loosen the straightjacket-like constraints I-960’s two-thirds vote requirement places on the majority as it seeks a more balanced solution that includes new revenues.
Sen. Prentice’s bill temporarily changes the two-thirds requirement to a simple majority, reasserting the principle of majority rule in the budget-writing process during this time of economic crisis. It’s a common-sense solution for extraordinary times.
In this post, I want to address the claim opponents of this effort will inevitably make that suspending a voter-approved initiative means legislators are somehow disregarding the “will of the people.”
First, let’s remember that the will of the people is determined by listening to the majority’s voice. In the Legislature, a bill that earns the support of a majority of the people’s elected representatives is said to reflect the people’s will. I-960, however, turns this upside-down. It says that we should listen instead to the minority’s voice to uphold the will of the people as we solve our state’s budget problem.
(Ironically, if I-960 was held to its own standard at the ballot box, it never would have passed; it was approved on a 51-to-49 percent margin.)
Second, it’s worth pointing out that Washingtonians have made their will known at the ballot box numerous other times recently, and in ways that don’t quite tell the same story that Tim Eyman is trying to tell. These include:
o rejecting Eyman’s latest effort, I-1033 (2009)
o ending the supermajority vote for school levies (2007)
o increasing funding for long-term care services (2008 and 2001)
o upholding the estate tax and dedicate revenues to education (2006)
o upholding the gas tax (2005)
o increasing funding for smaller class sizes (2000).
The 18 years that I’ve observed the Legislature from the inside tell me that the will of the people of Washington supports early learning for young kids, good classrooms for all kids, opportunities for college, and healthy neighborhoods safe from crime – and opposes allowing us to slide backward in these critical areas during times of economic crisis. Yet this desire of the people’s is stymied when a minority of legislators can overrule the solutions supported by a majority of legislators (who, again, represent a majority of the public).
To those who say overturning I-960 undermines the will of the people, I’ll respond by saying the minority rule enshrined in I-960 undermines the will of the people. And in this recession, it could also undermine our communities and our long-term economic future.
In our state, people expect government to get the job done and get it done right. That’s the will they expressed when they elected me and my Democratic colleagues to office. And that’s the will I’ll keep in mind as I work to protect the things we value as a state.