The question presented by Proposition 105 the Majority Rule initiative is as simple as it is compelling: Should a minority of Arizona voters have the power to forever commit the state to increased spending and taxation?
That question is not an academic one. When legislators were forced this year to confront a massive budget deficit, they found that roughly half of the budget was off-limits to cuts because the spending was mandated by voter-approved initiatives that cannot be reduced by the Legislature no matter how severe the budget crisis.
Is such spending the result of majority will? Not exactly. Most spending and taxing initiatives are backed by powerful special interest groups that have failed to persuade our elected representatives to do their bidding. Instead, wielding lavishly funded advertising campaigns, they turn to the ballot box, knowing that with low turnout they will only have to persuade perhaps a third of the electorate to vote yes. They never reveal to voters that once adopted, the spending and taxation will be locked in forever unless repealed by subsequent initiative.
In the legislative arena, it is tough to increase taxes and spending. All legislation requires a majority vote of all legislators not just the ones who happen to show up on a particular day. Most tax increases require a two-thirds vote in favor. But tax and spending hikes enacted by initiative require only a majority of those who actually vote, no matter how few turn out.
It should be difficult to raise spending and taxes, especially if they will be insulated against future cuts. Prop. 105 would apply to initiatives that increase taxes or spending the same baseline requirement that applies to legislative action: a majority vote among all of the decision-makers, in this case registered voters.
The majority rule initiative would require those who want to raise taxes or spending not only to persuade voters but to motivate them to vote. In the current system, special interests benefit from low voter turnout, unleashing the tyranny of the minority to impose spending and taxes that the majority of Arizonans may not support. If a new program is worth the spending and taxes required to sustain it, it should merit the support of a true majority of Arizona voters.
The initiatives major shortcoming is that it does not apply to new spending or taxes referred to the ballot by the Legislature. But it is a useful and important first step in curbing the rampaging growth of taxes and government spending that has put our states budget in a serious mess.
Next years state budget crisis will make this years seem like a stroll in the park. Its too easy for special interests to get their way on spending and taxes at the ballot box. A requirement of genuine majority rule will strengthen our states troubled economy and help alleviate future budget crises.
Clint Bolick is director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.