There is some evidence that supermajority requirements have at least helped to restrain the growth of taxes. From 1980 to 1996, state tax burdens as a share of personal income increased by 1.1 percent in states with supermajority requirements. Taxes rose five times faster in states without such requirements.
In 10 states, residents face higher top personal income tax rates today than they did in 1990. None of those states require supermajority approval for tax hikes. None of the 13 supermajority states have higher top rates today than they did in 1990, and three of them have lowered their top rate in the 1990s.
In Arizona, before the supermajority requirement was enacted in 1992, taxes had been raised eight times in the previous nine years. Since then taxes have been cut five years in a row.
Opponents of supermajority requirements for tax increases often claim that they are radical, reckless measures that will require draconian cuts in government spending on schools, roads, children and the poor. For instance, the New Jersey Education Association recently told a state Senate committee that a supermajority requirement “threatens the future of public education.”
While supermajority requirements can provide a modest amount of tax relief by making it less likely that tax hikes will be imposed, make no mistake, those requirements are truly modest measures. The idea that requiring more than a simple majority to increase taxes will gut the budget is ridiculous. A supermajority requirement does not mandate a tax cut, nor does it prohibit tax increases. Supermajority requirements merely ask legislators to reach a broader consensus when they want to take more money out of their constituents’ pockets.
Furthermore, since the supermajority requirements proposed in the legislature and by the governor are in the form of constitutional amendments, they would have to be approved by the voters before taking effect. Therefore, enacting those measures will not by itself impose a supermajority requirement. Instead, it would merely give New Jersey taxpayers an opportunity to decide whether or not they want to make it more difficult for their elected representatives to increase their taxes. What could be more reasonable? Why not let the voters decide? After all, it is their money.
Today Americans have to spend more on taxes than they do on food, clothing, shelter and transportation combined. Other states with lower taxes than New Jersey are prohibiting their legislatures from raising taxes without the explicit permission of the voters, a much stiffer restriction than a supermajority requirement. Is it really too much to ask that more than a simple majority of the legislature be required to raise New Jersey’s tax burden even higher?