The following originally appeared this morning in the California Flash Report:
Amid the speculation over whether Gov. Jerry Brown will succeed in extending the largest state tax increase in U.S. history for another half decade – California taxpayers got a rare bit of good news last week when Rep. Nancy Skinner’s ill-advised and unlawful online sales tax legislation, Assembly Bill 153, was placed on the Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee’s suspense file, effectively tabling it for the time being. Aside from the fact that Skinner’s bill is an unconstitutional cash grab and economically destructive for a litany of reasons – most of which I and the Digital Liberty Project’s Kelly Cobb hashed out in a recent Flash Report op-ed – there is a more important, pragmatic argument against spending anymore time considering AB 153 – the votes simply aren’t there. .
As it would happen, proponents of AB 153 are operating under the faulty assumption that approval can be had with a simple majority vote of the legislature. Not so fast. As a result of Proposition 26, which California voters approved with over 52% of the vote just last November, lawmakers can no longer get around the two-thirds majority vote requirement to raise taxes simply by denying that what they are imposing is, in fact, a tax increase. Yet that is precisely what Skinner and company are doing in attempting to pass AB 153 with a simple majority vote. Skinner herself claims that AB 153 will yield an additional $250-500 million in taxpayer dollars for state coffers in year one. Objective analysis can only conclude that Rep. Skinner would ultimately find her simple majority assumption to be as valid her assertion that her bill wouldn’t cost jobs.
Proposition 26 amended the California constitution so that – according to the language of the law – “Any change in state statute which results in a taxpayer paying a higher tax,” which is the goal and purpose of AB 153, is subject to a two-thirds vote requirement. Online sales tax proponents might have had a shot at getting a simple majority, not so with a two-thirds threshold.
Just as candidates and campaigns have to adapt to life post-Prop. 14, lawmakers will have to adjust to the post-Prop. 26 world, where the old tricks won’t work and they can no longer circumvent the 33-year old constitutional safeguard that requires tax hikes such as AB 153 be subject to a two-third supermajority vote. And that is a silver lining for Golden State residents amid this season of taxpayer discontent.