Supermajority Law Debate: History Favors A Balanced Approach
There was a time – not so long ago – when bipartisan majorities of legislators worked together in the face of tough times.
They responded to recessions with a recipe of policies that worked – a balanced mix of targeted cuts in spending and some tax increases. That reasonable approach lessened the severity of past downturns by maintaining crucial investments in health care, education, child care, and job training while the economy recovered.
But since the state’s first “supermajority” law was enacted in 1993 – meaning that taxes couldn’t be raised unless two-thirds of legislators approved – Washington state has been forced to endure an over-reliance on the cuts side of the equation. The result: damaging cuts to public services that cost jobs and make economic recovery take longer.
Some put forward an odd, history-defying argument (see here and here) that policymakers would have relied on a cuts-only approach to the most recent recession even without the supermajority law. Those who say that seem to suggest the law isn’t necessary because raising taxes is already extremely difficult.
But the record shows otherwise. Before the supermajority law legislators were able to unite behind raising additional revenues when the only alternative meant unacceptably deep cuts to core public health, education, and safety services. For example:
- Facing a severe recession in the early 1980s, policymakers (including Republican Governor John Spellman), enacted spending cuts and tax increases to preserve essential health and education investments. The package included a one-cent sales tax increase as well as more than $230 million in budget cuts.
- During the recession of the early 1990s, Washington state faced a $2.1 billion shortfall between the amount needed to maintain key public investments and available tax revenues needed to pay for those investments. Again, legislators responded with a balanced approach consisting mainly of spending cuts, drawing upon reserves and funds other accounts, and some Businesses and Occupation (B&O) tax increases.
That’s a sharp contrast from the last time around, when the supermajority law in essence took important tools out of the hands of legislators and left them fumbling for a solution that only made things worse.
The bottom line is that without the overly-restrictive supermajority law, history clearly shows that Washington state has been able to come together during recessions and negotiate reasonable solutions to economic problems.
For more information on the toll the supermajority law has taken on Washington’s economy check out our latest policy brief, "Supermajority Law’s Damaging Legacy: I-1185 Would Renew a Policy That Has Eliminated Jobs and Thwarted Economic Recovery in Washington State."