Thursday, January 6, 2011

Walker: Right on Supermajorities and Regulatory Reform

A bill requiring a supermajority vote in the legislature for any tax increases has been included in Governor Scott Walker's early legislative agenda aimed at improving Wisconsin's economy.

I believe that if legislators want to show they are serious about not raising taxes, they should, you know, just not raise taxes. That being said, signals are important in politics and in life and if this is intended as a signal then this approach is perferable to the alternative that some members of the GOP would prefer, a constitutional amendment requiring the supermajority vote.

Here's Mike H. at Letters in Bottles:
That said, I think he needs to be careful with legislation like this. While I think it's an excellent idea to require a supermajority for tax increases - or a statewide referendum - this particular legislation isn't the way to go. This really is a watered down version of TABOR or the TPA and anything that would require a supermajority of either house of the legislature should be done as a constitutional amendment. Doing this through an ordinary bill could be portrayed as an end run around the constitution and the citizens of the state.

There are more than enough votes to get this passed as a constitutional amendment and I think we would be much further ahead as a state if we went that route.
My objection to the constitutional amendment route is that it places limits on the actions of legislators, the people most directly responsible to the voters. To my mind, this is exactly backwards of the way things ought to be.

In a government of, by, and for the people our elected representatives should have reasonably wide latitude to govern as they see fit. This latitude will naturally be checked the regular elections as set forth in our founding documents.

The modern administrative state that is government in so much of America functions exactly opposite of this. While we seek to constrain our elected officials, unelected officials at the myriad regulatory agencies are tasked with creating and enforcing rules that may or may not have been part of, or intended by, the original legislation actually voted upon. This backdoor method of lawmaking also allows less courageous elected officials to achieve a desired legislative outcome without having to actually vote on the specific language that will become the law of the land. How many times in the debate surrounding health care have we heard that so much of the law remains to be written?

Governor Walker, however, has already taken steps to address this. From the Governor's Office website:

Madison—Today Governor-elect Walker announced the second piece of legislation for the Wisconsin is Open for Business Special Session, which contains an overhaul of Wisconsin’s overall regulatory process....

Walker’s legislation will take a multi-pronged approach to improve Wisconsin’s regulatory climate. First, it will state that an agency may not create rules more restrictive than the regulatory standards or thresholds provided by the Legislature. Second, it will allow rules to be challenged in the county circuit court where the plaintiff resides. Third, this legislation will require the Governor to approve proposed rules. Additional regulatory reforms will be included in the final version of the special session legislation.

Opponents can call this a power grab, but I'd call it making sure that laws are made by lawmakers. The fact that citizens can challenge rules in a manner more convenient for them is just a bonus.

On the question of a supermajority requirement to raise taxes Walker's approach is preferable to a constitutional amendment. His proposal for improving agency rule making has the potential to shift governance away from unelected regulators and back toward elected officials where it belongs.


Dad29 said...

SOme Pubbies object to the legislation and ninnernanner that they prefer an amendment.

Transparent. They simply prefer neither.

Mike H said...


I don't mind supermajorities to raise taxes. I think it's actually a good idea, but the problem is that such a requirement isn't necessary with the current Governor and legislature. The purpose would be to limit the power future legislatures and if we are serious about it, we should put it in the constitution. That's why we have the ability to amend the constitution in the first place.

John Foust said...

Aren't you presuming too much about the manner in which laws are created? The process is a horror. So many are beholden to special interests and campaign contributions. Isn't delegation to bureaucrats a reasonable option for legislators?

Jeremy R. Shown said...


Your point is taken, but do your really think unelected bureaucrats will do a better job? Remember those folks at the Minerals Management Service?

I'll take my chances with the folks that have to stand for election at regular intervals.