Will Legislature Endorse Constitutional Amendment Requiring Supermajority for Tax Increases?

Monday, February 27, 2012 at 3:17 AM by
Senate Committee Vote Scheduled for Tuesday (Feb. 28)

Early last year, Senator Vukmir introduced a proposal to amend the Wisconsin Constitution by requiring two-thirds approval in each house for certain tax increases.  The proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 8, was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce, and Government Operations on February 1, 2011, and for more than a year it remained there without any action.  However, the committee held a hearing on it last Wednesday, and has scheduled a vote on it this Tuesday. 

SJR 8 would require a supermajority vote to increase the rate of the state sales tax or to increase any of the rates of income tax or franchise tax (but not for increases in the gas tax or fees).  Similar language was approved in a Special Session bill last year and is now part of the state statutes.  In that sense, SJR 8 is somewhat redundant, but by putting the two-thirds requirement into the state constitution, it would preclude future legislators from reconsidering that decision during a fiscal emergency.

Until the hearing last week and the decision to hold a committee vote on the 28th, it appeared that the Senate had decided that in light of incorporation of the two-thirds requirement in the statutes, it wasn’t necessary to follow the steps of states like California that have put it into the constitution.  Now the intent of Senate GOP leaders during the closing weeks of session is unclear.    

SJR 8 is one of 13 measures the Senate committee is scheduled to vote on Tuesday morning.  The executive session begins at 9:30 a.m. in room 412 E.  The five members of the committee are Senators Zipperer, Kedzie, Galloway, Risser, and Erpenbach.

In January 2011, WCCF  issued a statement describing the disadvantages of adopting a supermajority requirement. That statement, warns:
“Requiring a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature for tax rate increases is likely to result in damaging budget cuts, including cuts in state expenditures for property tax relief. Although the supermajority requirement would hold down taxes on income, sales and corporate profits, it will put upward pressure on fees and local property taxes. As a result, many taxpayers may not benefit much financially, while the services they rely on would almost certainly suffer.”
In order to amend the constitution, the resolution (SJR 8) must be approved by two consecutive legislatures and a statewide referendum.  The earliest a referendum could be scheduled for a public vote would be in the spring of 2013.

Jon Peacock
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