Bill would give Pennsylvania voters power to reject any new taxes

Legislation would amend the Commonwealth’s constitution to add ballot questions allowing voters to override any new taxes or fees.

Updated: March 22, 2022 - 11:04pm

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A proposed bill could mean more ballot referenda in Pennsylvania to prevent controversial tax increases, but could also make it harder for localities or the General Assembly to boost tax revenues.

Rep. David Rowe, R-Union/Snyder, introduced HB2432 to amend the Commonwealth’s constitution to add ballot questions during primary elections that would allow voters to override any new taxes or fees, or their increase or expansion.

“As the financiers of the Commonwealth, our taxpayers deserve to have a direct say in any new tax proposal that will affect them,” Rowe said in a memo. “My legislation will give the people an opportunity to vote for or against any new tax, or expansion of an existing tax, allowing them to have direct say over what is being done with their hard-earned income.”

If voters reject the tax, the General Assembly could override the referendum, but only with a two-thirds vote.

Tax referenda periodically appear on ballots across the country; for example, Arizona might have a citizen referendum to reject a flat income tax later in 2022. Famously, California’s Prop 13 limited property tax increases in 1978 and had long-term consequences.

HB2432, however, would subject many more taxes and tax increases to popular scrutiny. Doing so could restrain the tax burden placed on Pennsylvanians, but if voters reject new taxes while spending keeps increasing, or existing taxes return less revenue, it could result in a budget deficit.

However, the ballot questions would make Pennsylvania a bit similar to western states. Citizen initiatives and popular referenda are often used in western and Midwestern states to allow voters to bypass legislatures and change state law. Currently, Pennsylvania has neither.

“Allowing the people to have this kind of direct hand in matters that directly affect them is crucial to ensuring that our society stays one that is governed by the people,” Rowe said in a memo.