During the 2012 legislative session, House Joint Resolution 1 was introduced, proposing an amendment to the Idaho Constitution requiring that any tax increase or fee increase would need a two-thirds vote of both houses in the Legislature for a tax or fee increase. It received mixed reviews when it was presented in committee, and ultimately didn’t go anywhere.
The resolution said that no bill providing for a net increase in revenue to the state, by fees or taxes, can become law unless two-thirds of both houses approve it.
The resolution was defeated on two grounds of reasoning. First, that it did not provide a clear definition of what constitutes a net increase in revenue and, second, a number of lawmakers were not willing to consider a tax increase and a fee increase in the same resolution. That is, many more favored such a limit on tax increases, but were hesitant when it came to fee increases.
The concept, however, is intriguing enough that the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) asked legislators who are running this year if they would support a constitutional amendment to require two-thirds for a tax increase, as well as for a fee increase.
Out of 92 returned surveys, 56 potential legislators said they would support an amendment requiring two-thirds votes for tax increases. Nine were opposed to it, 12 said they were unsure, and there were a few who chose not to answer that particular question.
For those who supported the idea, the reasoning behind their decisions ranged from the idea that this should have been accomplished already, to being in favor of a super majority for everything, to one candidate simply explaining his answer with, “No more taxes. Period.”
But perhaps the most complete answer came from Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who voted for the resolution on the House floor. “I voted in support of the proposed constitutional amendment to do this, which unfortunately, failed on the House floor. The bar should be raised in order to increase taxes. Tax increases directly affect families, businesses (jobs), and our state economy and should not be taken lightly. We require a super majority popular vote on bonds raising property tax and a two-thirds legislative vote to propose amending our constitution.”
Many of those against the idea didn’t explain why, but current lawmaker Darrell Bolz, a Republican from Caldwell, did. “Other states have done this and have later run into state funding problems. The Legislature ought to have the will and knowledge as to when tax increases are justified and necessary. I do not feel that the Legislature has had a problem in this regard.”
With regard to requiring a two-thirds majority for fee increases, which some people believe is the same as a tax increase, there wasn’t as much support among the candidates. Forty-six were in favor of it, 14 opposed it and 16 were not sure. Again, some chose not to answer the question at all.
While those who supported a two-thirds majority for fee increase called it a tax and echoed supporting comments for the tax increase question, those who were opposed to the idea raised a couple issues. There were two basic themes: fees are generally self-imposed, and what about things that are fee-reliant.
Current lawmaker, Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, wasn’t sure about having a two-thirds majority for taxes, but he opposed it for fees. “We have at least two departments that depend upon fees for all or most of their operating costs. These are Fish and Game and the Idaho Transportation Department. Both of these are governed by an independent board appointed by the governor. These boards meet throughout the year and I suspect the Legislature with its three-month meeting and limited exposure to all factors may not be qualified to make meritorious two-thirds decisions.”
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, was in favor of a two-thirds vote for fee increases, saying fees are essentially taxes. “A fee increase is really a tax increase. This should not be passed by a simple majority—usually the more silent majority. These fees affect too many lives and we need to stop government growth.”
To read the full surveys from candidates, click here.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.