Three constitution change proposals killed off by Legislature
CONCORD - The House on Wednesday killed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required a supermajority of lawmakers to pass new or increase existing taxes and fees.
CACR 1 is almost identical to one proposed last year that died when the House failed to agree with changes the Senate made. The House voted 206-149 to kill the bill.
CACR 1 was one of three proposed amendments the House killed Wednesday. CACR 2 would have allowed graduated tax rates, something currently forbidden in the constitution, and CACR 4 would have prevented court rules from having the force of law.
CACR 1 would require a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate to approve new or increases in taxes and fees.
Supporters said the change would provide greater constraints on taxing and would make the legislative process more opaque.
But opponents said it would tie the hands of future legislators and turn the state into another California, which is often paralyzed because not enough lawmakers can agree to approve a budget.
The proposed amendment's prime sponsor, Rep. Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson, said requiring a three-fifths majority would encourage consensus and provide greater transparency than the current system where back room deals are often made at the midnight hour.
"We demand a supermajority of the people in SB 2 towns, but it's not fitting to demand a supermajority vote of ourselves when we take money away from the people?" Ulery said. "You'll be told this will restrict flexibility. That's what the constitution intended, to limit the ability of government to take money out of your pocket, out of your neighbors' pockets."
But opponents noted if the provision had been in place over the last 22 years, seven of the last 11 state budgets would have failed.
"This bill is pure obstructionism, nothing more, nothing less," said Rep. Tim Smith, D-Manchester. "This bill tries to make it harder to fund routine state operations and only serves the interest of those who what to dismantle our government brick by brick."
After the vote, the Republican leadership lamented the lost opportunity to allow the state's citizens to decide if they want to retain the state's traditional limited government.
"Passing CACR 1 would have given the citizens of New Hampshire the opportunity to ensure that we keep limited government in place by making it more difficult to raise taxes in the future," said House Minority Leader Gene Chandler. "It would simply have put this issue on the ballot and allowed the voters to decide for themselves next election."
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, said New Hampshire has the lowest tax burden of any state and also the lowest level of services noting they go together.
"If you believe there is no need for state government, then vote for this and then that is what we will end up with," Almy said, "if the citizens don't revolt first."
The prime sponsor of CACR 2, Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene, said he believes the state needs to have a serious discussion about state taxes and the tax structure.
"This amendment will allow us to address the huge problem with the New Hampshire tax structure and that is its regressiveness," said Weed. "We need a responsible discussion about taxation and the tax structure. That is what I hope will happen."
But opponents to the plan said the change could have far-reaching effects.
Ways and Means vice chair Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, said any tax could have graduated rates, from the rooms and meals tax to the business profits tax.
The state's tax system allows for exemptions and credits to address some of the problems that Weed raised, she said.
And she noted, the amendment does not just allow the state to have graduated tax rates, but also counties, cities and towns and even water districts.
The amendment was killed on a 302-38 vote.
CACR 4 is similar to a proposed amendment that failed to win the needed three-fifths majority of the House and Senate to make it on last year's general election ballot.
The amendment seeks to overturn an earlier amendment that allows the court to write its own rules without legislative oversight.
The amendment would prevent the rules made by the chief justice of the Supreme Court covering court administration and practices from having the force of law.
The amendment was killed on an unrecorded vote.