To that end, the Hudson Republican has co-authored a bill calling for a constitutional amendment requiring a super majority vote of the Legislature to approve any sales, income or franchise tax hike.
The proposal would solidify the 2011 law passed by the Republican majority that demands a two-thirds vote to pass tax increases.
“My top priority is to protect taxpayers like you,” Knudson said in an email to constituents. “The people of Wisconsin deserve to know that their tax bill will not increase due to the desires of a simple majority.”
“…(E)nshrining this protection in the constitution will provide greater certainty to every Wisconsin citizen,” added Knudson, who circulated the bill this week with Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa.
But the proposed taxpayer amendment, which would have to be approved by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and blessed by Wisconsin voters in referendum before becoming law, could leave some loopholes, according to a leading taxpayer organization.
It’s all a matter of semantics, said Dale Knapp, of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
“What people are missing on this really is that even if this is in the constitution it doesn’t prevent the Legislature from increasing income taxes and sales taxes with a majority vote,” said Dale Knapp, research director for the WTA.
The Legislative Reference Bureau had yet to see the bill as of Friday, so the wording remains unclear. Knudson and Vukmir are looking for co-sponsors.
Knapp said if the wording is anything like the law, it would deal specifically with raising tax rates. That opens the door to hikes through broadening the sales tax base, for instance, or eliminating income tax credits, the tax expert said.
“There are things the Legislature could do to get around this,” Knapp said. “This would not be something that is going to make it set in stone that you never are going to see tax increases.”
Knudson said the proposed amendment recognizes that there will always be legislators who want to extract more money from citizens. The amendment would “raise the bar” on that course of action.
“There will always be creative tax-and-spend ideologues who will come up with a way to raise taxes and spend money. I realize that,” the lawmaker said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do this, and it is doable now.”
With a Republican majority in both houses of the Legislature, Knudson said he hopes to move the bill through in early January. He’ll have to have the numbers in the next session, following the 2014 election. Knudson sounds confident he will.
Knapp said he’s hopeful there will be adequate public hearings before the bill is taken up for a vote. The proposed amendment, Knapp said, could effectively tie the hands of lawmakers committed to reforming the state’s tax code.
“It does put up a roadblock in terms of what the Legislature can do,” he said.
Knudson doesn’t see it that way. In fiscally difficult times the Legislature has found ways to get things done — with a super majority, the representative said.
Wisconsin would be far from the first state to have a taxpayer constitutional amendment. At least 16 states have some form of a super majority amendment or law on raising taxes, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation:
Arizona (two-thirds requirement since 1992),
Arkansas (three-fourths requirement since 1934),
California (two-thirds requirement since 1979),
Colorado (two-thirds requirement since 1992),
Delaware (three-fifths requirement since 1980),
Florida (three-fifths requirement for corporate income taxes since 1971),
Kentucky (three-fifths requirement since 2000),
Louisiana (two-thirds requirement since 1966),
Michigan (three-fourths requirement for property taxes since 1994),
Mississippi (three-fifths requirement since 1970),
Missouri (two-thirds requirement since 1996),
Nevada (two-thirds requirement since 1996),
Oklahoma (three-fourths requirement since 1992),
Oregon (three-fifths requirement since 1996),
South Dakota (two-thirds requirement since 1996),
Washington (two-thirds requirement since 1993).
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