116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
From the same Legislature that brought us a constitutional amendment making it virtually impossible to regulate firearms and a constitutional amendment denying Iowans the right to an abortion comes a brand-new constitutional amendment.
This week, the Iowa Senate approved SJR 2006, a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to raise the individual or corporate income tax or to introduce a new tax. It passed on a 30-18 party line vote, with majority Republicans in favor.
Its sponsor, Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, argued the amendment would protect Iowans from a tax increase. If there were a compelling need for more revenue, it would take a bipartisan majority to enact a tax increase or new taxes.
Of course the flip side is a minority of 17 senators or 34 House members could block such an increase. The irony is that this amendment need only pass the Senate and House by simple majorities this year and next to be placed on the ballot in 2024. Voters can also approve it by a simple majority. That’s generally how democracy works. Like when Dawson was reelected to the Senate with 52 percent of the vote in 2020.
At this point, its future in the House is uncertain.
The argument that Iowans need protection from a tax increase is funny stuff. According to the Iowa Department of Revenue, through 2020, there is already $15.9 billion in annual tax cuts, credits and exemptions on the books. Gov. Kim Reynolds just signed another “largest tax cut in Iowa history” earlier in the legislative session, adding another $2 billion in income tax cuts.
Can anyone remember the last income tax increase in Iowa? I can’t.
But you may have noticed that a sales tax increase is not included in the amendment. Earlier this session, Dawson floated the idea of eliminating municipal local-option sales taxes and raising the state sales tax by 1 cent to fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust fund. The idea didn’t fly but he hasn’t given up.
Republicans want to eventually eliminate personal income taxes in Iowa, which would subtract roughly half of the money the state spends in its general fund budget. GOP leaders have not said how they would cover that gaping budget hole, but a sales tax increase is likely. With this year’s passage of a 3.9 percent flat income tax as a step toward eliminating income taxes and the potential for a big sales tax increase, Iowa’s tax system will be about as progressive as a horse-drawn plow. But it’s good stuff for wealthy GOP donors.
So we’ll be protected from a tax hike that likely won’t happen, but not from the one that will.
But the worst part of this sort of amendment is that it seeks to impose today’s legislative prerogatives on our leaders in the future. If the electoral winds ever blow a different direction, we’ll be anchored to the politics of 2022.
An amendment on the ballot this fall will require our courts to judge any future firearms regulation using “strict scrutiny,” the highest level of judicial review. And in 2024, we’ll be voting on an amendment declaring that the Constitution doesn’t “recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion.”
Now, we face the prospect of another 2024 vote that would lock future Legislature’s into the current majority’s fiscal policy.
It’s a lousy, shortsighted way to govern. This is our Constitution, not the Republican Party platform. Voters should reject these efforts to handcuff the future.
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