Bill to require two-thirds vote for tax increases dies in committee

A bill that would require a two-thirds vote for any tax increases in the state failed Thursday to make it past a House committee. HJR001, a bill sponsored by Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, failed on a 7-7-2 vote. The bill would require two-thirds of any governing body with six or more members to vote in favor of any action that would increase taxes or fees beyond the cost of providing a service. The bill was amended at the start of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee meeting to exempt any governing board with five or fewer members, which would exempt most city councils in Utah. Thursday evening, Wimmer told Sutherland Daily that he could bring the bill back and that he likely will if he can get a full committee. Two of the committee’s members, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, and Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, were absent and did not vote. Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, was one of the seven lawmakers who voted against allowing the bill to move past the committee. She called the bill “government on autopilot” and said she believes constituents elect their representatives to make decisions on bills, including tax increases. She acknowledged that her constituents are very clearly against tax increases at this time, but she said she opposed changing the Utah Constitution to require a two-thirds majority in case her constituents favored tax increases later. “I believe in my heart that it’s really important that the voter makes me responsible,” Fisher said. Rep. David Butterfield, R-Logan, disagreed. Referring to a notion of “tyranny of the minority” that had been discussed by some other lawmakers, he put emphasis on the power of taxation. “The power to tax is the power to seize property. That’s a very powerful thing that governments have, and it shouldn’t be done lightly,” Butterfield said. “We ought to have a high bar for this power.” The most pointed words during the nearly 90-minute debate came from Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. King said he didn’t just think Wimmer’s bill was a “bad bill,” he called it “awful.” “I think this is a terrible idea; it is profoundly anti-democratic,” King said. “It makes it much more difficult for us as a Legislature to be responsive to the will of the people.” King lamented that it only takes a simple majority of the Legislature to rule on the issue of whether the state should use the death penalty, but now there’s a proposal to require a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. “It inverts logic on its head in a way that is absolutely remarkable,” King said. Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, followed up King’s comments by saying that with something like the death penalty, or a DUI, people make a choice and then are found guilty. With taxation, the government has the power to go into people’s homes and take what they’ve earned with no action on the part of the individual. “We absolutely ought to have a higher bar (to raise taxes),” Hutchings said. “To me that’s a no-brainer.” On Thursday night, Wimmer told Sutherland Daily that the seven committee members who voted against moving the bill out of committee weren’t voting against the bill as much as they were denying their constituents an opportunity to vote eventually on the constitutional amendment. “I’m disappointed that we had three Republicans (Fisher, Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, and Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara) who voted to continue on with the possibilities of continuing tax-and-spend policies when this clearly is a taxpayer-friendly piece of legislation,” Wimmer said. “A vote against this was a vote against the citizens having a say on this issue.”

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