State Supreme Court explains decision to let I-1366 go to the ballot; offers few clues as to constitutionality of measure

Yesterday the state Supreme Court shed light on why I-1366, which appears to have passed with 52 percent of the vote in a low turnout election, made it to the November ballot. Here’s the court’s opinion. Basically, as framed in this Washington Research Council post, the initiative’s intent was insufficiently clear. 

From the court’s opinion (citations dropped).

The appellants here have not shown the fundamental and overriding purpose of I -13 66 with the same level of clarity [as was demonstrated in the sole case where the court blocked an initiative from heading to the ballot].

The parties’ arguments demonstrate that “the fundamental and overriding purpose” ofi-1366 depends on the prism through which one views its provisions. Appellants, who view it as seeldng to amend the constitution, focus on the heading “2/3 Constitutional Amendment” and the fact that the sponsors ask that checks in support of the initiative be made out to “2/3 Constitutional Amendment” and refer to their initiative as “2/3 for Taxes Constitutional Amendment.”

…On the other hand, respondents view I -13 66 as containing a form of conditional legislation that would operate to reduce the sales tax unless the legislature takes specified action to amend the constitution. They argue that the initiative is nothing more than contingent legislation to reduce taxes, a form of direct legislation within the legislature’s power. 5 . Viewed in this light, the purpose of I-13 66 is the enactment of law and not the . . ‘ ,, . .,. . .. · . :. . ·. ” amendment .of the. constitution. 

The court’s decision to allow I-1366 to go to the ballot doesn’t indicate which way the justices will rule on any challenge now that the voters have approved it. Jason Mercier with Washington Policy Center writes,

The fact the Court said I-1366 opponents’ claims are not clear may give some hope to those that approved the ballot measure at the election. That said the Court is not closing the door to this type of challenge. 

Because the election still needs to be certified and any legal challenge will need to provide time for proper briefing, it is highly unlikely the Court would even hear, let alone pass final judgment on I-1366 before the legislative session starts. 

Here’s the story on the court’s decision from the Associated Press. And we’ve written about editorial board reaction to I-1366’s apparently ballot victory here and here. It appears lawmakers will return to Olympia with more than the usual amount of fiscal uncertainty facing them.