OLYMPIA…The Washington State Supreme Court today upheld King County Superior Judge Mary Roberts’ June 13 ruling that Initiative 747 is unconstitutional.
Attorney General Rob McKenna, whose office defends initiatives and other state laws when challenged, said he was concerned by the 5-4 ruling because of its chilling effect on the people’s right to initiative.
“While I respect the court’s decision, I am disappointed,” McKenna said. “First, because it overturns the will of the people in approving property tax relief through Initiative 747, and second, because it allows a challenge to an existing law to sidetrack the initiative process.”
The court agreed with Roberts’ ruling that I-747 was unconstitutional because it amended a law (I-722) that was declared unconstitutional in September 2001, long after I-747 had been filed and circulated and just two months before it was approved by voters.
Initiative 747, which prohibited taxing districts such as the state, cities, counties, fire districts and library districts from increasing their tax levies by more than 1 percent a year without voter approval, was filed in January 2001 and approved in November 2001 by 57 percent of voters.
The state argued that the constitution does not require initiative drafters to predict that the underlying law might be changed when they file their initiative and begin collecting signatures.
“This ruling puts initiative drafters in an impossible situation whenever they seek to amend a law which might be changed after their initiative has already been drafted and filed, but before the election,” McKenna said.
The court ruled, “Article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution requires that amendatory laws set forth at full length the law to be amended… In this case, at the time of the operative popular vote…the Voters' Pamphlet was ambiguous as to whether the effect of I-747 would generally lower the property tax levy limit by one percent or by five percent. We therefore conclude that I-747 violates article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution.”
Because the decision was based on the Washington State Constitution with no federal constitutional issues involved, it is not subject for review by the US Supreme Court.
Taxing districts will now revert to the law as it stood prior to passage of I-722 and I-747, meaning they now have the authority to increase property tax levies by up to 6 percent a year.
Contact: Janelle Guthrie, AG Communications Director, (360) 586-0725