Iowa Republican plan would make it harder to raise taxes

But critics say measure would limit ability to respond quickly to crises

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Legislative Republicans began a push Monday for constitutional limits on the Legislature’s ability to spend money and raise taxes.

House Joint Resolution 2, which was co-sponsored by 53 House Republicans, would write the state’s 99 percent spending limitation law into the Iowa Constitution and also would direct surplus funds exceeding 10 percent to flow into a taxpayers’ trust fund so the money could be returned to taxpayers as an overpayment. Also, lawmakers in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate would need a two-thirds majority vote to authorize the issuance of revenue or appropriations bonds.

A second proposed constitutional amendment included in the House resolution sought to establish a three-fifths majority vote requirement in both legislative chambers to raise the state income or sales/use taxes, or to enact a new state tax. HJR2 also provides that any lawsuits challenging the measure’s enactment would have to be filed no later than one year from the resolution’s enactment date.

To amend the Iowa Constitution, the resolution would have to pass the current Legislature and the subsequent 86th Iowa General Assembly in exactly the same form to come before Iowa voters for ratification.

Rep. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, who led a House subcommittee discussion of the measure on Monday, said GOP lawmakers want to put the requirements in the Constitution because a future Legislature may change or weaken the current spending limitation law, whereas it would be more difficult to do that or raise taxes if there were constitutional protections.

“It puts a little more meat behind the law,” said Lofgren, who believed the constitutional changes would keep state government from mirroring the budgetary and debt problems facing the federal government.

However, Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, expressed concern that constitutional provisions would limit the Legislature’s ability to respond to emergency situations or economic downturns in a timely manner.

“Do we need to put the whole code in the Constitution?” asked Olson.

“It would slow us down,” he added. “Anything that hamstrings a legislator’s ability to react to an economic crisis I think takes power away from Iowans.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he did not think HJR2 would get very far in the Iowa Senate, where Democrats hold a 26-24 edge, if it is approved by the Iowa House – a chamber in which Republicans have a 53-47 majority.

“The House is just churning out bills that are dead,” said Bolkcom.

“This is a tired, retreaded idea. It’s not likely it’s going anywhere this year,” he added. “It is time to move on and start putting some progressive tax policy together here,” he said.

In a June 1999 statewide special election, Iowa voters defeated proposed constitutional amendments to establish a 60 percent vote requirement for each legislative house to raise or create taxes and a separate issue to make permanent the 1992 state law that limits spending to 99 percent of revenue raised.

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