Thursday, July 9, 2009

Goldwater Institute: In Defense of Supermajority Rule

There was a time when conservatives stood for smaller government. They fought taxes and believed in spending only on core government functions. Then we saw the era of "read my lips" and "compassionate conservatism." Politicians of all stripes decided that voters wanted carefree spending--and they delivered. That's what generated the spectacle unfolding in California. And during Arizona's go-go real estate boom, it empowered a Democratic Governor and a Republican Legislature to surrender the state's fiscal health to reckless spending.

State capitolThat's why Arizonans should be grateful that our state's Constitution requires two-thirds of the Legislature to approve a tax increase--a "supermajority" rather than a simple majority. So far the supermajority rule has helped some legislators resist the ridiculous notion of raising taxes in a depressed economy. But more deeply, the provision illustrates the crucial importance of restraining simple majority rule.

The problem with simple majority rule is not just the threat of mob action violating individual rights, but also the fact that the 2-point difference between 51 percent and 49 percent can shift in the blink of an eye. A simple majority is just not a good enough measure of consensus, much less the consent of the people. For this reason, especially when it comes to fundamental public policy, something more substantial than majority rule is required.

Taxes are among our most fundamental and critical public policies. Our nation was born of revolution because of taxes imposed without the consent of the people. Let's hope the Arizona Constitution's supermajority rule helps to restrain Arizona from continuing to engage in reckless spending.

Nick Dranias holds the Goldwater Institute Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan chair for constitutional government and is the director of the Institute's Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Center for Constitutional Government.

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