Kudos for support of tax protection

School Board member Chanz Keeney deserves applause for standing up against an attempt to roll back state constitutional provisions that require a double majority of voters to pass tax levies and bonds.

The District 55 School Board voted 8-1 earlier this month to support an Oregon School Boards Association resolution calling essentially for the repeal of the double majority requirement, allowing a simple majority to decide. Keeney was the lone dissenter.

Under the double majority provision, bond issues and other measures that would raise property taxes need not only a majority vote but at least a 50 percent turnout of registered voters to be approved. The requirement does not apply during general elections in even-numbered years.

Given the reluctance of the public, including ourselves, to support tax increases to satisfy the unending appetite of government agencies for public funding, we understand why board members in a less-well-off school district such as ours would be inclined to support this repeal effort.

Public officials, appointed, hired and elected, have complained about this since it was passed as part of voter-approved property tax reforms in the late 1990s.

Now the state Legislature has an initiative on the November ballot to repeal it, and public officials will push for it in any way they are permitted to see that it passes. The requirement limits their ability to impose taxes and impedes their ability to expand government.

While their resentment toward this law is understandable, their arguments fall flat. Board members argued that the requirement gives non-voters a “no” vote without going to the effort of actually voting.

The flaw in this argument is that plenty of other issues are on the ballots that may require the voter’s attention. If those voters fail to turn out for those elections, they lose their voice on other important matters. Their “free” no vote comes with a price. Also, staying home instead of voting is a gamble for “no” voters, whose side will lose if enough voters materialize to meet the 50-percent threshold and then vote to pass the tax measure.

Playing guessing games about whether a tax measure would pass without the double majority requirement is really kind of pointless anyway. The bottom line is that the double majority is just another form of supermajority designed to put the brakes on a tax measure.

The concept of a supermajority voting requirement is nothing new to the United States. The national Constitution is the document that sets precedent for unfair representation and supermajority requirements.

Congress includes equal votes for all states, regardless of size, in the Senate. Supermajorities are required to pass constitutional amendments or to override the vote of a single man, the president, when he vetoes a majority-authorized bill.

That these supermajority requirements are in place is recognition of the dangers of so-called democracy, majority rule. We live in a Republic where the whims of a majority are blunted by checks and balances.

The double majority in Oregon is a check and a balance on public officials and voter majorities in small elections. It is not wrong, and we think it is worthwhile to keep this one in place.

Those who want to pass a bond or tax levy have the opportunity to allow a regular majority to pass it in November every two years. That is plenty. If a need is truly so great that it cannot wait, then it shouldn’t be difficult to gather the double majority, just another form of supermajority, to pass it in a different election.

Yes, Mr. Keeney put himself in an unpopular position on a board that can discuss issues and differ in opinion without resorting to cut-throat tactics employed by their counterparts down the road in the next town.

Fact is, though, the rest of the board should remember that voters generally don’t appreciate back-door tactics to chisel more money out of them, which is essentially what this repeal amounts to.

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