Two Wisconsin legislators are looking to make state tax law a constitutional amendment, making any future attempts to change the process of increasing taxes more difficult.
Current law requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to increase sales, income or franchise taxes, which the constitutional amendment would strengthen by not allowing a Legislature to exempt itself from the current law, Jason Rostan, spokesperson for bill sponsor Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said.
“You never know in 10 years, 20 years from now, a Legislature could sit and say, ‘We desperately need to raise taxes by a huge amount because we want to create whatever program,'” Rostan said. “They could exempt themselves and pass a bill eliminating the requirement. Having it in the Constitution makes the Legislature actually have to follow the law.”
A similar constitutional amendment was introduced last session but was unsuccessful, Rostan said.
However, Rostan said the sponsors are giving it another go.
Dale Knapp, research director at Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said the organization does not advocate for or against the legislation, but added the amendment would not eliminate any potential funding increases should the Legislature want them.
“One of the things you could do is impose the sales tax on services, which would raise revenues by not raising the rate,” Knapp said. “Similarly with the state income tax, there are things you can do with deductions and credits to raise or lower taxes without raising rates.”
Rostan said he would expect the amendment to be seen favorably among Wisconsin voters, should it pass two consecutive legislative sessions as Wisconsin law requires.
However, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, said educating voters about the implication of the law could sway voters’ opinions.
“Well, it always sounds good when you’re saying, ‘Let’s not have any tax increases and make it real difficult [to raise taxes],'” Heck said. “Once voters understand the practical implications of rigidity in the law, they would regret it.”
In emergency funding situations or a specific instance where the state requires more revenue, Heck said the amendment could “impede and conceivably hurt a lot of people.”
Rostan said the amendment has seen additional Republican legislators sign on as co-sponsors, but no Democratic members.
He added he is interested to see how the political landscape would be should the provision reach taxpayers.
“It would be interesting to see if there is a lot of money spent on either side for or against it,” Rostan said.
Of the amendment overall, Heck said it would not be a “wise” decision to strengthen the current law to be a constitutional amendment.
Tax increases should reflect the majority, meaning through the representatives the people of Wisconsin elect, Heck added.
The Constitution should only be amended for particular issues, not when a majority wants to pass something while they are still in the majority, Heck said.
“Certainly, the Republicans are the majority, but it ought to be as it was a couple years ago: a vote,” Heck said. “Something they can put into the law, but not made a permanent part of the fabric of Wisconsin.”