In 2018, Senator Jim Bolin tried to hamstring our power to write our own laws by placing on the ballot Amendment X, which would have raised the vote count necessary to amend the South Dakota Constitution from 50%+1 to 55%. South Dakotans rejected this unnecessary measure at the polls.
Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) takes a different tack in hampering direct democracy. He proposes House Joint Resolution 5003, which would require that any initiative, constitutional or statutory, that “imposes or increases taxes or fees” or “obligates the state to appropriate funds of ten million dollars or more in any of the first five fiscal years after enactment” receive a 60% vote to pass. HJR 5003 would also authorize the Legislature to adjust that $10M threshold for inflation every year… but the language “as determined by the Legislature” means Hansen and his cronies could adopt any definition of inflation they wanted and swiftly price more initiatives into supermajority-vote territory. (Yes, I am suspicious of this Legislature, and so should you be! We need clear definitions, not Legislative latitude.)
Tying fiscal measures down with high vote thresholds has some precedent in current Legislative practice. Article 12 Section 2 of the South Dakota Constitution requires the Legislature to muster a two-thirds vote to appropriate any money outside of the general budget bill. Article 11 Section 13 (passed by the voters in 1978 53% to 47%) requires a two-thirds majority vote to increase income or property taxes but applies that supermajority rule explicitly and only to the Legislature, not the people.
We have those two-thirds majority vote requirement because (a) South Dakota Republicans have rigged the system to stymie efforts to raise money to pay for good public works and (b) we may have some reasonable concern that crafty legislators rush through bills without much scrutiny (for every bill, there are five or ten that may sail through committee and floor debate and on to the Governor’s desk before I can analyze them) and may use the opaque legislative process to pad their pockets with pork.
There’s no rushing or hiding a ballot measure, whether it raises taxes or increases spending by any amount. Proposed initiatives are made public as much as two years before the election. Initiative sponsors have to collect tens of thousands of signatures and submit their signed petitions to the Secretary of State a full year before the vote (I’m still working on that). If someone proposes an initiative that would adopt a nice progressive income tax or spend any state dollars on Medicaid expansion, you can bet that Representative Hansen and his party will grab their megaphones and robocallers and make sure you know about it before you go to the polls. We thus don’t need a higher vote threshold to protect ourselves from any taxing or spending initiative from sneaking past us at the polls.
The only reasons to support Representative Hansen’s HJR 5003 are that (1) you think the people are as sneaky, ignorant, and/or beholden to party bosses as Representative Hansen and his fellow legislators, (2) you are a Republican seeing your party’s influence dwindle and want to be able to maintain your grip on public policy with only 41% support, and (3) you support Hansen and Bolin’s Legislative elitism and want to keep passing incremental restrictions that over time make enacting meaningful change by direct popular vote practically impossible.
I’d rather the Legislature stop HJR 5003 now and spare us the trouble of beating it at the polls. But Hansen’s party happily threw the 55% vote threshold at us in 2018; they’ll gladly give their 60% attack a shot on the 2022 ballot.