Originally published at Fox & Hounds Daily
Joel Fox, proprietor of this web site, has a suggestion for a constitutional amendment that's at least half-right. The power of referendum should be extended to cover tax increases.
What's so good about it? First off, the referendum is the one direct democratic power that should be used more. Referendums have been filed fewer than 80 times in the history of California - because the short time period (90 days) and high number of signatures make it far too costly and onerous. (If you want to reverse a law, you're better off just doing an initiative - since you have to collect the same number of signatures and get more time - 150 days). And California has limited the kinds of laws that can be subject to referendum.
Fox is right - we should end that. California should reorient its ballot system around referendums - or votes on the product of the legislature. Not just taxes but other kinds of legislation - perhaps even budgets - should be subject to referendum.
But Fox's reasoning for a referendum on taxes isn't nearly as good. He wants the referendum as a back up, in case two-thirds of the legislature somehow manages to raise taxes or revenues. But is that really democratic? Should a majority of voters in one election be able to overturn the votes of 2/3 of their elected representatives? It would be more honest - and save everyone a lot of time and money - if people who think like Mr. Fox simply passed a constitutional amendment declaring that the government may never raise taxes or fees ever again. That's the policy Fox really wants.
Of course, that's nuts - at least if you believe in democracy.
So I propose to Mr. Fox a trade. You get a referendum on taxes. Heck, you can even make it a mandatory referendum on taxes, if you like. But you pay a price: the end of the 2/3 rules for tax and fee increases.
The people can serve as a check on tax increases. But the distortions of the 2/3 system - which allow a minority of legislators to frustrate the will of majorities, or to take hostages until they're paid off with special favors - are eliminated.
Mr. Fox, what would be so wrong with that?
*Mr. Fox recently replied to Joe's post, here.