Power to the Few - How the Supermajority Law Distorts Democracy
As our recent brief, "Supermajority Law's Damaging Legacy: I-1185 Would Renew A Policy That Has Eliminated Jobs And Thwarted Economic Recovery In Washington State" shows, the supermajority requirement distorts democracy and has made it nearly impossible for state policymakers to take a balanced approach to our state’s economic challenges.
The law, which has been on the books in various forms since 1993, bars policymakers from raising taxes or eliminating wasteful tax loopholes without a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a vote of the people. As few as 17 state Senators (one-third of the 49-member chamber) - those who are rigidly opposed to any tax increase regardless of purpose or need -- can block legislation that would raise revenues to support state and local public health, education, and safety investments.
The graph below illustrates just how lopsided Washington’s approach to the Great Recession has been under the supermajority law. Since 2009, for every dollar in new revenue raised to support higher education, child care, and other economic investments, more than $17 has been cut from those services. In fact, tax increases and other revenue enhancements account for a mere four percent of the actions taken to balance the state budget over the past three years.
The supermajority law is so broad, it has prevented lawmakers from raising additional resources simply by ending wasteful tax breaks – even those that have no proven ability to create jobs and that predominantly benefit large, profitable corporations. It requires two-thirds of the legislature to modify or eliminate a tax break, but a simple majority to create one. This unequal treatment, making it far easier to create a new tax break than to weed out an under-performing one, has greatly undermined transparency and accountability in Washington’s entire budget process.
In early 2012, one tax break – a wasteful Business and Occupation (B&O) tax deduction claimed mostly by large out-of-state banks – was narrowed. However, in exchange for agreeing to limit that tax break, a small group of legislators successfully demanded the expansion and extension of other tax breaks. As a result, the state will actually lose more revenue from these expanded tax breaks in coming years than it will able to recoup from the bank deduction.
To learn more about the damaging effects of the supermajority requirement, read our full brief here.