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Raising Taxes Could Be Harder Now in Florida

Voters handed Republican lawmakers a victory by passing a new supermajority requirement to raise taxes. But it's debatable whether it will actually curb tax increases.

A November ballot initiative would require the Florida legislature to have a supermajority to raise taxes.
(TNS/Joe Burbank)
For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

Republicans retained their majority in Florida not only with sweeping wins in the state House, but also with the passage of a supermajority requirement for tax hikes.

Approved by 66 percent of voters on Tuesday, the constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds legislative majority in both chambers to pass a tax increase. Florida is now the 15th state with a supermajority requirement.

Opponents of the measure had complained that Republican lawmakers put it on the November ballot to “stack the deck” against any Democrats taking office after them. One of the chief critics of the measure was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who said it was a sign Republicans were “getting ready for when they’re out of power.” Gillum, however, conceded defeat on Tuesday to Republican Ron DeSantis. 

The proposal in Florida was one of a slew of tax-limiting ballot measures across the country this year. Others were also successful, such as in Arizona, where voters banned taxing services, to North Carolina, where voters lowered that state’s income tax rate cap. In Oregon, however, voters rejected new restrictions on raising that state’s revenue.

A total of 14 states impose some kind of supermajority requirement -- two-thirds, three-fourths or three-fifths of the legislature -- to raise taxes and revenue. But while supermajority requirements can be daunting for minority parties, there’s no evidence that they substantially change a state's tax policy one way or the other.

The prevailing argument for supermajorities is that they keep taxes low. The evidence doesn’t necessarily bear that out. California, for instance, has a supermajority requirement and has some of the highest income tax rates in the country.

What's more, research from the progressive-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has found no long-term average difference in tax rates between states with supermajority requirements and states with no such requirements.

Some research, though, has suggested that supermajority requirements can have unintended consequences. A study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University warns that supermajority rules for tax increases “may lead to coalition building that actually increases pork-barrel spending in order to entice legislators to support a tax increase.”

The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation’s Joseph Henchman isn't surprised that research shows supermajorities have little effect. “If you have a state that’s reliably conservative, they’re not going to go wild on spending [in the first place],” he says. “I think [the supermajority requirement] is more of a protection that’s built in.”

But Michael Leachman, senior director of CBPP’s state fiscal research, has warned that the requirements have a devastating impact. In Oklahoma, for example, the three-fourths requirement prevented some attempts to raise funding for education until school districts faced a massive teacher shortage and many were forced to go to four-day school weeks. Only after a statewide teacher strike this year were lawmakers able to pass the first tax hike in nearly 30 years.

“Getting there just took an enormous effort from a lot of people and you can’t expect the legislature to operate that way year in and year out,” he says. “They should be able to look at what [the] state needs and spend appropriately without having to meet this bar.”

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

Liz Farmer, a former Governing staff writer covering fiscal policy, helps lead the Pew Charitable Trusts’ state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource.
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