Joel Fox,
proprietor of this web site, has a suggestion for a constitutional amendment
that’s at least half-right. The power of referendum should be extended to cover
tax increases.

What’s so good about it? First off,
the referendum is the one direct democratic power that should be used more.
Referendums have been filed fewer than 80 times in the history of California –
because the short time period (90 days) and high number of signatures make it
far too costly and onerous. (If you want to reverse a law, you’re better off
just doing an initiative – since you have to collect the same number of
signatures and get more time – 150 days). And California has limited the kinds
of laws that can be subject to referendum.

Fox is right – we should end that.
California should reorient its ballot system around referendums – or votes on
the product of the legislature. Not just taxes but other kinds of legislation –
perhaps even budgets – should be subject to referendum.

But Fox’s reasoning for a referendum
on taxes isn’t nearly as good. He wants the referendum as a back up, in case
two-thirds of the legislature somehow manages to raise taxes or revenues. But
is that really democratic? Should a majority of voters in one election be able
to overturn the votes of 2/3 of their elected representatives? It would be more
honest – and save everyone a lot of time and money – if people who think like
Mr. Fox simply passed a constitutional amendment declaring that the government
may never raise taxes or fees ever again. That’s the policy Fox really wants.

Of course, that’s nuts – at least
if you believe in democracy.

So I propose to Mr. Fox a trade.
You get a referendum on taxes. Heck, you can even make it a mandatory
referendum on taxes, if you like. But you pay a price: the end of the 2/3 rules
for tax and fee increases.

The people can serve as a check on
tax increases. But the distortions of the 2/3 system – which allow a minority
of legislators to frustrate the will of majorities, or to take hostages until they’re
paid off with special favors – are eliminated.

Mr. Fox, what would be so wrong
with that?