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Voters permissions to raise revenue

Published (5/6/2011)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Rep. Steve Drazkowski, left, sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a three-fifths vote to enact a law imposing or increasing a property tax rate or levy, and Phil Krinkie, president of The Taxpayers League of Minnesota, who supports the measure, listen to a question from a member of the House Taxes Committee during a May 2 hearing. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)Voters could decide whether the number of legislators needed to pass a bill to increase revenue should be changed from a simple majority to three-fifths of each house’s membership.

Similar amendments have been placed on constitutions in 15 other states, Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) told the House Taxes Committee. His motivation for HF1598, which he sponsors, comes from constituents who “clear and loudly say that we need to rein in spending. This amendment would do that.”

The bill would put before the voters during the 2012 general election a question of whether to approve an amendment to the state constitution that any bill that increases the state income, sales or property taxes require three-fifths of each house of the Legislature to vote in the affirmative. The committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee where it was approved and moved to the House floor.

Norann Dillon of Plymouth is frustrated that it seems easier for legislators to raise taxes than to focus on the spending component. “You are going to have to build consensus to raise taxes, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I see this as a good thing for taxpayers. There will be more cooperation here among legislators.”

Jay Kiedrowski, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a former state finance commissioner, opposes the bill, saying it puts Minnesota on a very “slippery slope of governance.” If implemented, it could negatively affect state and local credit ratings, increase the cost of borrowing; and the impingements on raising revenue could also affect how quickly the state could respond financially to emergency situations, he said.

With several bills having been introduced asking for constitutional amendments DFLers questioned if Republicans are choosing to govern by constitutional amendment.

“Is it the philosophy of the Republican Party that we should abandon representative democracy and move to where voters vote on significant matters? It does seem like we are really changing 150 years of how we run government here,” said Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul).

Since amendment proposals don’t need to be acted on until next year, Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. (DFL-Crystal) asked why they are being taken up now.

“We want people to be talking about the issues over the summer,” Drazkowski said.

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