Harry Truman once said of tough decisions, "the buck stops here." Some Arizona lawmakers, though, appear to prefer that the buck stop "over there" as they consider referring a tax increase to the ballot rather than making the call themselves.
It's understandable. They're truly in a tough spot dealing with the massive fiscal irresponsibility of the Napolitano years. Now legislators who promised not to raise taxes are wavering and would like some cover.
But this is a bad idea. A vote to refer a tax increase to the ballot is a vote for a possible tax increase. Most legislators campaigned as fiscal conservatives who would protect taxpayers in these tough times. Now we need for them to stand up to their promises. The effect of a tax increase on Arizona's struggling families and businesses is identical whether passed at the ballot or by the Legislature.
Citizens aren't being cut out of the process either--they can't be. If a tax increase is so popular and necessary, they always have the right to put one on the ballot themselves through the initiative process.
Moreover, a legislative tax increase would require a 2/3 super-majority vote, while referral to the ballot requires only a majority. Lawmakers would actually be doing an end run around a major taxpayer protection by referring the tax increase to the ballot.
Lawmakers would like to put the onus for a tax increase back on the voters and pretend that they had no primary role. But they can't avoid responsibility. Lawmakers should step up, be accountable and do the job they were elected to do.
Tom Patterson is chairman of the Goldwater Institute and a former state senator.