Hefty bank tax stands as judge upholds title-only bills

Hefty bank tax stands as judge upholds title-only bills
A King County Superior Court judge has upheld a bank tax bill that remained title-only until shortly before its passage – a move critics say violates the state constitution. Photo: freepik.com

This legislative session three bills proposing to end the use of title-only legislation failed to clear their original committees prior to the cutoff date. Now, a King County Superior Court judge has ruled a bank tax enacted last year through a title-only bill did not violate the state constitution, though the bill could still be struck down for violating the U.S. Constitution.

In his decision, Judge Marshall Ferguson ruled that the constitutional issue was beyond judicial review, an argument made by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson in his motion to dismiss the case.

Introduced this session were HB 2190 sponsored by Rep. Jim Walsh (R-19) and SJR 8214 and SB 6042 sponsored by Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-17), all of which would prohibit the use of title-only bills. However, none of the bills received public hearings.

Washington Policy Center Government Reform Director Jason Mercier argues that title-only bills clearly violate the House’s official legislative transparency mission statement.

“The use of a Title Only bill to ram through a tax never before discussed in the last days of session is a clear violation of that mission statement,” he wrote. “The additional failure to even hold a public hearing on bills to reform this anti-transparent process further rubs salt in the wound.”

Title-only bills introduced at the beginning of a legislative session allow legislators to add bill language later and avoid a constitutional requirement that bills be introduced at least 10 days before  session adjournment. In the case of HB 2167, the bill was introduced April 10, with language added only two days before it was voted on by the state House and Senate, drawing criticism from key committee chairs. The bill almost doubled the business and occupation (B&O) tax on certain financial institutions, which the Washington Bankers Association (WBA) argued in its lawsuit violates the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

In a statement, WBA President and CEO Glen Simecek said that “while we were disappointed in Judge Ferguson’s decision not to move forward with the state constitutional claim, we look forward to arguing the merits of our case on the Commerce Clause claim.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Anyone have an idea of what the Commerce Clause claim involves? It can’t be that the increase in the B&O rate unduly impairs interstate commerce. That rate increase is a pittance compared to the income taxes some cities and states impose on national banks . . ..

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