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Iowa lawmakers vote to require supermajority for tax hikes

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Mark Moran

(Iowa News Service) Iowa lawmakers are considering legislation which would require a two-thirds majority vote to increase taxes in the state. Supporters call it a show of accountability, but critics say it is irresponsible and will limit lawmakers' ability to raise revenue in times of critical need.

Senate Study Bill 1207 would require a supermajority of both the 100-member House and 50-member Senate to approve a tax increase in Iowa. Supporters of the measure say it would shield Iowans from increased taxes while still giving lawmakers a way to boost taxes when they need to, but having to clear a higher bar to do so.

Michael Owen, deputy director of Common Good Iowa, and other critics of the bill countered the state's democratic system is supposed to ensure one person, one vote.

"And this would turn that on its head," Owen argued. "This would make it possible, for example, for 17 state senators to block the will of the vast majority of state senators and a unanimous House and the governor if they thought it was important to raise taxes."

It is not likely to happen any time soon since both chambers and the governor's office in Iowa are all currently led by the GOP, but Owen stressed creating a law like this could have far-reaching consequences, taking the power out of the hands of future legislators who may need to raise taxes during a financial crisis.

Even if the bill is passed this year, it would have to be approved by Iowans in two consecutive elections to amend the state constitution.

What's more, Owen said, COVID relief programs will expire this year, and also pointed to Iowa's new flat tax, both of which will result in a revenue shortfall in the state, and which he contended makes a mandatory supermajority to raise taxes dangerous and fiscally irresponsible.

"If we're talking about taxes in a vacuum, we're really not telling the story," Owen stated. "We have to be talking about the services that are connected to them. So, if you're talking about a tax cut, your very next sentence should be, 'This is what services I'm proposing to cut, as well.' Well, you never get that."

The bill is on its way to the Senate Ways and Means committee.