Should tax increases require a two-thirds vote?
The worst kept secret of the 2010 Legislative Session is the majority party’s plan to “suspend” the state’s two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases.
This disregard for the voter’s intent is despite the fact on three separate occasions citizens have voiced their support for requiring lawmakers to reach a broad consensus and secure a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. Votes in support of the two-thirds restriction occurred in 1993, 1999, and 2007 .
Despite numerous legislative amendments to the section of law containing the tax restriction, the Legislature has never fully repealed the mandate from voters that tax increases require a two-thirds vote.
Rather than continue the current charade of “suspending” the law every time lawmakers want to raise taxes while saying they are honoring the will of the voters and leaving the law on the books, they should refer the question to the voters as a constitutional amendment.
This would follow the model used in 2007 for the school levies constitutional amendment. At that time some lawmakers voting in favor said they merely wanted to give the voters a say.
Doing the same thing for the state’s two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases would finally put to rest this debate.
We previously made this recommendation in our Policy Guide:
“Since the legislature has repeatedly suspended the voter-approved requirement that tax increases require a two-thirds vote for approval, constitutional protections are needed. These protections, however, should not be limited to state taxpayers, but should extend to local taxpayers as well.
To encourage government officials to build a strong public consensus on the need for any proposed tax increase, a two tiered approach should be adopted. Government officials should utilize two different options to raise the tax burden:
1. with a two-thirds vote of the legislative body, or,
2. with a simple majority vote pending ratification by the voters via a referendum.
Either option would help assure that a broad consensus is reached and the taxpayers are included on any policy decisions that would result in an increase in their tax burden.”
Here are details on other states with constitutional vote restrictions for tax increases.
Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He serves on the Executive Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News. Mercier also serves as treasurer on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and was an adviser to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee.