Contrary to state claim, denying voters constitutional right to raise tax is not 'direct democracy'

There are many things to say about House Joint Resolution 5, but claiming it promotes “direct democracy” is not one of them.

The proposed constitutional amendment by Gov. Mike Dunleavy would strip Alaskans of a right they have under the Alaska Constitution, which is the power to enact taxes through the initiative process. Under the Dunleavy amendment, the Legislature would have to agree with the initiative or it would never become law.

The amendment would also prohibit the Legislature from enacting a tax or raising a tax without voter approval. The governor and his staff have said that this would prevent “predatory” taxes on industry—meaning higher oil taxes—and it would give Outside companies less reason to worry that they would face higher taxes from Alaskans, so they would want to invest more in the 49th state.

In the past. the cruise ship tax and the marijuana tax have come about via initiative.

I’ve written here before that Dunleavy’s staff has been less than candid in describing this amendment to the public, claiming it is an attempt to promote efficiency instead of an attempt to deny a basic right.

Dunleavy budget adviser Mike Barnhill, a longtime state employee, continues on this deceptive path by claiming the measure is an example of “direct democracy.”

In a hearing April 30, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux challenged him on that claim. Voters today have the right to enact a tax by initiative. The Alaska Constitution prohibits the Legislature from repealing a law enacted by initiative within two years, but it can be amended at any time.

Barnhill did his best to create confusion, just as he has done with deceptive claims about the University of Alaska budget.

“The Legislature can amend immediately a law that’s enacted, initiated and enacted into law by the people, but it can’t repeal it for two years. And that’s the change that we’re suggesting in HJR 5, is that we tighten up that time frame. Instead of waiting two years, the Legislature could reject the initiation of the people in the next session,” Barnhill said.

“That’s not exactly direct democracy,” LeDoux said.

Yes, “not exactly.” This is a plan to take a power away from voters.

“Not to quarrel too much, this absolutely is an example of direct democracy. But it is changing. In fairness, it is changing the way that an initiated tax would be considered by the Legislature and that it’s tightening up the timelines for the Legislature to reject an initiated law,” Barnhill said.

Under questioning by Rep. Zack Fields, Barnhill admitted that the Legislature could kill a tax initiative simply by refusing to bring it up for a vote.

This is the opposite of direct democracy.

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