A pair of constitutional amendments proposed by Iowa House Republicans and approved on a party line vote in committee Tuesday would tie the hands of legislators in dealing with natural disasters and changing economic conditions, Democrats said.
House Joint Resolution 2 would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment limiting the size of the annual state budget to 99 percent of the Revenue Estimating Conference’s December estimate of ongoing revenue. Any ending balance would be put into the Taxpayers Trust Fund to be returned to taxpayers.
The second amendment would require the Legislature to approve any tax increase by a 60 percent vote of each chamber.
Voter approval of the amendments would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes or issue bonds, and prevent lawmakers from approving “notwithstanding” language that allows them to exceed spending limitations, floor manager Rep. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, said during an Appropriations Committee discussion March 12.
Although supported by Iowans for Tax Relief and Americans for Prosperity, HJR 2 is opposed by labor unions and a variety of social policy lobbying groups.
It’s also opposed by House Democrats, who called the timing of the discussion ironic.
“In March, we wind our clocks forward,” Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said, referring to the start of Daylight Saving Time. “But Republicans propose we wind our clocks back 14 years.”
Similar proposals were rejected by voters in 1999, he said.
“I credit the wisdom of state’s population in recognizing bad legislation,” Hall said.
Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, questioned whether the legislation would require a super-majority vote to raise the motor fuel tax. The wording suggested it would not, he said.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, agreed. The original intent was to cover general fund expenditures and revenue sources. Gas tax revenues, according to the Constitution, go into the Road Use Tax Fund.
“That’s not to say it shouldn’t apply to the gas tax,” he said of HJR 2.
Whether it does or not won’t change Olson’s opposition.
“Why we would want to limit our ability to do our job is beyond me,” he said. “It would limit our ability to respond to constituents’ needs.”
HJR 2 likely will win approval in the Republican-controlled House, but is unlikely to fare as well in with the Democratic majority in the Senate.
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