Gutting I-960 is wrong move to deal with fiscal crisis

Yet, it looks as if lawmakers will try to make long-term changes to the voter-approved restrictions on raising taxes.


It now looks almost certain the state Legislature will raise taxes to cover a portion of the $2.6 billion hole in the state budget.

We would hope the taxes raised would be fair, minimal and not create such a burden that they would slow the state's economic recovery.

But new revenue of any kind isn't possible unless the majority Democrats can get Republicans to join them in approving a new tax or raising a current tax. That's because voter-approved Initiative 960 calls for a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to raise taxes or fees.

But lawmakers can -- and likely will -- make changes to I-960, which they can do with a simple majority. In doing so lawmakers should take care not to permanently disfigure I-960.

Yet, that's not what is hapening. In addition to suspending the two-thirds majority until July 2011, the proposal being considered calls for tax increases that pay for voter-mandated programs -- setting a limit on class size, for example -- to be permanently exempt from the supermajority vote. The proposal also permanently exempts from the two-thirds mandate any measures that change or remove tax breaks, transfer money within state accounts and responses to court rulings that could decrease tax collections.

The proposal also removes the requirement for a nonbinding public advisory vote on any tax hikes that aren't subject to a referendum.

This broad attack on I-960 is troubling. It seems Democrats are using a fiscal crisis as an excuse to dismantle a voter-approved law they've always abhorred.

And we say that even though we, too, have never been a fan of I-960. We were against I-960 because we believe that in a representative form of government those we elect to do the job should have leeway to use their judgment.

Still, we understand the voter frustration that manifested itself in passage of I-960. Lawmakers irked voters when they went around the spending limits imposed with the passage of I-601.

When voters imposed restrictions on tax hikes through I-960 the Legislature had an obligation to follow the letter -- and the spirit -- of the initiative.

Suspending I-960 for a brief period to deal with a crisis, while not preferable to mustering the two-third majority, is tolerable.

But gutting the initiative isn't tolerable -- or acceptable.

If lawmakers are going to make changes to I-960 they need to do so sparingly and temporarily.


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