California has long had a constitutional threshold of a two-thirds majority to pass a budget. This requirement for a supermajority produced gridlock after gridlock, year after year, until 2010, when California voters approved Proposition 25, an initiative providing for passage by majority vote. Another provision stipulated that legislators will have to forfeit their pay–not a threat here, where legislators make $600 a month, but a big deal in the Golden State, where they make $95,291 a year– if they do not pass a budget in a timely fashion.
Dan Patrick has a piece of legislation on the Senate intent calendar today that would take Texas down the road California has traveled. It’s SJR 12, a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds supermajority before any tax could be passed or increased. The language from the legislation:
An affirmative record vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house of the legislature on final consideration in each house is required for passage of a bill that:
(1) imposes a new state tax; or
(2) increases the rate of an existing state tax above the rate in effect on the date the bill was filed.
Patrick’s amendment would do to Texas’s budgeting what the two-thirds requirement did to California’s: It will make it impossible to fund state government. It’s next to impossible now, due to failure of the leadership over the past three sessions to address the growing structural deficit. The two-thirds requirement is a hurdle that cannot be cleared. Lawmakers will not be able to increase a tax–goodness knows it’s long past time to raise severance taxes on oil and natural gas–much less implement a new one. If lawmakers are going to continue to grant tax exemptions, to refuse to consider raising revenue, and to allow the structural deficit to increase every biennium, budgets like the one we are going to have this biennium–and next–are going to be the rule, not the exception.
Supermajority requirements are designed to take decisions out of the hands of the Legislature. I think they are a bad idea, except where constitutions wisely make specific provision for them, such as impeachment. At the same time, I admit (lest Senator Patrick hasten to remind me) that I am a big proponent of the Texas Senate’s supermajority requirement for bringing bills up for debate (which he is not). The supermajority forces senators to seek consensus on legislation, and it makes the perilous journey to the Senate floor the most important box on the “How a Bill Becomes Law” chart.
In the current political climate, there is scant support for funding state services at a level that approximates the public need. Legislation like Senator Patrick’s is designed to make this situation permanent. Oh, wait. It already is.