Legislature should drop idea for tax-hike ‘supermajorities’

A constitutional amendment requiring all tax increases to have a so-called “supermajority” 60 percent approval by the Legislature is being considered in St. Paul.

We fully recognize that the state needs to rein in the size of government in difficult times and that, when taxation is excessive, it makes it more difficult for the private sector to generate the income needed for sufficient tax revenues.

However, we oppose the idea of a “supermajority” for setting the level of taxation for three reasons.

First, for 154 years, Minnesota has grown and prospered under the principle that the rights of the minority are respected while the majority still rules. In all but a few areas, however, the majority is considered to be 50 percent plus one. As needs and the electorate change over time, this  allows a majority of voters to express their will.

Second, just because the taxation level is all but frozen, that doesn’t freeze the costs of providing government programs authorized by law. In fact, the experience in other states, particularly California and Colorado, shows that requiring supermajorities for tax hikes doesn’t provide affordable government so much as inefficient, ineffective, bad government.

Supporters note that Minnesota requires a 60 percent supermajority to pass a bonding bill. Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers asks the question, if it’s good enough for bonding, why not for taxation? The answer to that is that indebtedness is more dangerous. With bonding, we are exchanging short-term gratification for a long-term obligation. In effect, we are burdening the next generation with paying for the government of the current generation.

Taxation, on the other hand, is used to pay for immediate obligations. The state constitution requires that taxes and spending have to balance. Every two years, the voters decide if the level of spending and taxing is too high or too low by whom they elect.

Third, the Legislature does not set property tax levels. Local government does. The property tax is the least connected to the taxpayers’ ability to pay. The Legislature has tried to assist in the financing of local government through state aid. A supermajority would effectively put an end to that practice, and shift the overall financing of local government to a more regressive tax.

Lets drop the idea of requiring supermajorities for tax hikes now.