A proposal to make it harder for lawmakers to raise taxes was squashed Monday in the state Senate, 21-14.
Sen. Rod Beck, R-Boise, proposed a constitutional amendment to require a three-fifths “super-majority” of both the House and Senate for passage of any tax or fee hike. Beck said he felt the state’s power to tax should be held to a higher standard.
“It is the power to reach in and really take from the sweat of my brow,” Beck said. “We’re not talking about an unattainable standard, but a higher standard,” he said.
Under current law, tax hikes and other bills must pass the Senate and House by a simple majority. In the Senate, that means getting 18 of the 35 senators’ votes. Beck’s proposal would have raised that standard to 21.
Several senators spoke in favor of Beck’s resolution, saying it would rein in a Legislature too prone to enact tax hikes.
“This is a safeguard we owe the people of the state of Idaho,” said Sen. Jerry Thorne, R-Nampa.
“We have had surplus after surplus after surplus after surplus, with no real attempt to ever put the (tax) rates back to what they were,” said Sen. Stan Hawkins, R-Ucon.
But other senators, including several from North Idaho, attacked the resolution, saying it would put the difficult higher standard on any money bill, including even minor license and fee hikes.
Several said the Legislature doesn’t take tax increases lightly.
“When you start talking about raising taxes - it doesn’t matter what tax - it’s a very difficult issue, and most of us here will oppose it,” said Sen. Jerry Twiggs, R-Blackfoot.
Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, said she has seen local school districts struggling with a similar requirement - the two-thirds majority needed to pass school construction bonds.
Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said Beck’s proposal would allow a minority in the House or Senate to stonewall legislation supported by the majority. “The most important reason to vote against this is that it is minority rule,” he said.
“We have managed our affairs in the state of Idaho very well,” Schroeder said. “We’re having surpluses because we’ve managed well and because we’re not overtaxing.”
To pass, the proposed constitution al amendment needed a two-thirds majority in each house and majority approval by voters at the general election in 1996. The 21-14 vote - not even a simple majority - killed the proposal.
“I’m frankly a little amazed at how this debate has gone today,” said Thorne. “I truly thought we had some conservatives in this body, and I guess we don’t.”
But Sen. Tim Tucker, D-Porthill, dismissed the resolution as rhetoric.
“We need to not let our attention be divided by this kind of right-wing activity,” he said. “We need to address sales tax and personal income tax and use those savings to lower the property tax.”
The proposal would have “tied the hands of the Legislature,” Tucker said. “You haven’t seen us raising taxes in this body,” he said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”