Opinion

Get behind simple majority at long last

We’ve written this editorial so many times now,

it’s practically a reflex.

Must be Groundhog Week.

Yet duty calls again, as legislators once more consider a bill that would end what we’ve been calling the “tyranny of the minority” that hobbles the funding of local schools. Specifically, the legislation would put an end to the 60 percent “supermajority” requirement for passage of school levies and bonds. Because it would change the state constitution, the bill requires the backing of two-thirds of both chambers, plus the support of the electorate in a statewide election.

The proposal has become something of a biennial ritual in Olympia, as education

interests try to free our public school districts of the yoke of a requirement that allows a comparative minority of voters to derail local school funding – even if a levy would maintain current taxes, not raise them. And each session, the legislation fails to gain traction in one chamber or the other, felled by those who believe it should be hard for a community to tax itself under any circumstances, regardless of need.

Why do we care? Indeed, Bainbridge Island has been blessed with a popular and successful school district, one that has enjoyed enviable support for its operations and construction programs. While our district is currently caught up in a rhubarb over the size of the next construction bond, we suspect that when a package finally goes before voters, sufficient numbers will be moved to vote “yes.”

Other districts aren’t so fortunate, and even as the state shirks its “paramount duty...to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” (per the state constitution), it remains maddeningly difficult for some districts to drum up supplementary funding.

In fact, the recent popularity of the initiative process has created a double standard for public participation in taxing issues. Those using initiatives to slash funding mechanisms like the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax need only get 50 percent plus one vote to eliminate an entire class of taxes. But those working to maintain funding for local schools must overcome the entrenched opposition of “no on everything” voters, plus rally enough supporters to the polls to clear the supermajority hurdle.

Will this be the year legislators finally remove the hurdle? We hope so. And as we’ve noted, there is a failsafe: the voters themselves. Given the chance to amend their constitution, Washingtonians could well say they prefer to keep the supermajority requirement.

So what’s the harm in asking?

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