PIERRE — Legislators quarreled Monday about whether new taxes, tax increases and tax extensions should all require a two-thirds majority, whether enacted by the Legislature or through a ballot measure.
The state House of Representatives will make the final determination, possibly as early as this afternoon, about whether that question should be put on the 2014 statewide ballot for South Dakota voters to decide.
The resolution seeking a constitutional amendment to that effect is sponsored by Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg. It has cleared the Senate on a 25-10 vote Feb. 12.
A two-thirds majority is already required in the Legislature for a tax increase or a new tax.
But the Brown resolution comes in the wake of a ballot measure last year that attempted impose an additional 1 percent of sales and use tax. The tax increase needed only a simple majority to pass but was rejected by 56.7 percent of South Dakota voters in the November general election.
The additional 1 percent initiative was put on the ballot through a petition drive by the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations and by the South Dakota Education Association. The proceeds were to be split 50-50 between expanded funding for Medicaid and additional funding for public schools.
With that fresh in mind, the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-4 Monday to advance the proposed constitutional amendment to the full House. The House debate will be led by its main sponsor in the chamber, Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka.
Sen. Chuck Welke was one of several legislators with professional education backgrounds who testified against the proposal at the House committee hearing.
Welke, D-Warner, said the two-thirds would restrict the citizens in their ability to raise taxes.
Brown responded that local bond-issue votes already come with a higher threshold of 60 percent for passage.
He said the public should get the opportunity to discuss the two-thirds requirement and decide whether to adopt it.
Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said legislators are elected to make spending and taxing decisions.
“We have a two-thirds requirement on any appropriations that we make, and I can’t imagine attacking the right of the initiative and making it two-thirds when it’s been 50 percent and it isn’t more than 50 percent in any other state,” Gibson said.
Rep. Tim Johns, R-Lead, said he’s changed his mind to favor the proposal as he’s learned more about it. Johns said the two-thirds requirement doesn’t dilute the right of initiative and doesn’t affect referrals.
Johns said he doesn’t see any difference between a tax increase that comes through the Legislature, where a two-thirds majority is required, and a tax increase that would come through the initiative.
Rep. Marc Feinstein, D-Sioux Falls, agreed that bond votes require 60 percent and they don’t all pass.
“This puts an extra 6.66 percent burden on that,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein said there’s “a little bit of inconsistency” that 50 percent plus one can impose a two-thirds requirement.
“I think it’s wrong,” he said. “I think 50 percent plus one in a vote of the people is the right way to go.”
Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, said it’s quite easy for groups to get measures on the ballot in South Dakota.
“I think the taxpayers and the voters in South Dakota want to know this is going to be a very serious decision and see that required,” Hajek said.
Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, said the Legislature already is tying everybody’s hands through tax limits and budget limits.
“What we’re doing with this is making it impossible,” Stevens said. He added, “Quite frankly I don’t know why we think we have all the brains here in Pierre.”
House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, said he thinks it was an oversight that the two-thirds wasn’t required for an initiated tax increase too.
“It’s not impossible for two-thirds of the people of South Dakota to agree on something if they really want it,” Gosch said.
The Brown resolution also would require a two-thirds majority in instances where a tax is scheduled to expire and the Legislature or voters attempt to extend it beyond that date.