The Mac Taylor Rule

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

As I’ve written here before, I’m against supermajorities, and for that matter supermen, superbanks, super-centers, and supermodels (too skinny).

But if you’re going to have super-majorities for spending, budgets and taxes, as we do in California, you need to align those super-majorities with the best interests of the next generation. Our system fails to do that.

The best example: Raising taxes is politically difficult and forces us to pay for our current needs, instead of off-loading them onto the future. So California’s system makes it even more difficult with a 2/3 vote. But if you want to cut taxes (politically popular) even if it means pushing costs into the future, that’s much easier—it requires only a simple majority.

A super-majority system should recognize this reality by applying 2/3 votes to the easier options. If you want super-majorities (I’d get rid of them all together), super-majorities should be applied to two cases. 1. It should take a two-thirds vote of the legislature to cut taxes, a politically easy thing to do. 2. It should take a 2/3 vote to spend money (which is essentially the rule we have now).

In contrast, it should be easier to do the hard stuff: raising taxes and cutting spending. Those should require only a simple majority.

In honor of our legislative analyst, who has recently recommended higher taxes and lower spending as the only way out to balance California’s budget, I’m calling this new mix of reforms (2/3 for tax cuts and spending increases; majorities for tax hikes and spending cuts) the Mac Taylor Rule.
Of course, the current political debate over two thirds is largely focused on the exact opposite approach: making spending and budgeting easier (by reducing it to a majority vote) while preserving the supermajority for raising taxes.

This approach should be called what it is:

Theft from the future.

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