Opposing Constitutional Amendments that Put Minnesota's Future at Risk

The Minnesota Budget Project supports preserving the ability of a simple majority of lawmakers to determine the overall size of the state budget and to manage available resources. Therefore, we oppose any amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution that would require a supermajority vote to raise taxes or use reserve funds, or would restrict lawmakers from using available resources. Amendments such as these would damage Minnesota’s economic future by sharply limiting policymakers’ flexibility to respond to changing demographics and emerging needs. Lawmakers would find it harder to reach agreement, leading to an increase in legislative gridlock and the use of more budget gimmicks.

Issue Overview

Experience from other states demonstrates that constitutional amendments limiting budget decisions don't deliver on their promises, and they come with dangerous consequences. These measures:

  • Would harm the state's economic growth by artificially limiting public investments in our communities.
  • Encourage the use of budget gimmicks. Just as water forges a new path when it encounters an obstacle, so elected officials will try to find ways to meet the needs of their constituents. With constitutional limits in place, policymakers will use less transparent methods to enact budget decisions they believe are critical for Minnesota's future.
  • Increase legislative gridlock. A small number of legislators can hold back their votes on critical legislation until they win concessions on other unrelated issues.
  • Restrict the state's ability to respond to emergencies. Although an amendment may allow policymakers to override restrictions in extraordinary circumstances, the ability to respond appropriately to a natural disaster or public health emergency often requires a long-term financial investment in preventive measures.
  • Remove flexibility to respond to evolving public needs. Public discourse on how to address new demands on the state's social and physical infrastructure would be hampered by the reality that policymakers would have limited ability to respond.

Three constitutional budget amendments limiting the state's ability to raise taxes or use available revenues were introduced in the 2011 Legislative Session:

  • House File 1598/Senate File 1384 required a three-fifths (60 percent) supermajority vote in each body of the Legislature in order to pass a tax increase.
  • House File 1661/Senate File 1378 limited general fund spending in the biennium to 98 percent of forecasted revenues, with the remainder going into a reserve account. Any spending above the 98 percent - or any use of the reserves - could only be done in response to an emergency and would require a three-fifths (60 percent) supermajority vote in both bodies of the Legislature. Once the reserve account reaches five percent of state revenues, a reduction in the sales tax would be triggered.
  • House File 1612/Senate File 1364 limited all spending in the biennium to the amount of all revenues collected in the previous biennium. Excess revenues could only be used for two purposes: to pay back one-time shifts and to provide for the public peace, safety or health as a result of a declared national security or peacetime emergency.

Status

House File 1598 passed the House Tax Committee in 2011. In late August 2011, a group of legislative leaders announced that a major element of their 2012 legislative agenda would be a constitutional amendment to require a supermajority vote in the Legislature to raise taxes.

The 2012 Legislature adjourned without acting on any of the proposals, thanks in large part to the work of concerned Minnesotans and leaders from local government, business, nonprofit, faith and labor organizations that actively opposed the amendments. They argued that the amendments would lead to a host of unintended consequences, such as more government shutdowns, gridlock and budget gimmicks; increased cost-shifting to local government and pressure on property taxes; more impediments to tax reform; and further risks to the state's credit rating.

Lawmakers were convinced. None of the bills were brought up for a vote in either house in the 2012 session by the time the Legislature adjourned on May 10.

More Information

Staff contact: Nan Madden, Minnesota Budget Project Director, 651-757-3084

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