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Giving More Thought to Legislation

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

With the deadline to veto measures approved by the 2002 session of the legislature now past, the governor has had his say about legislation that will or will not become the new law of the land.
However, what is more interesting is the legislation that did not even get a stamp of approval by the legislature this year. “Interesting” because the idea or proposal was even considered by lawmakers. They give a good sense of just what lawmakers were thinking about this past session. While these proposals did not become law, the very idea that they were considered should be of some concern to taxpayers.
One measure that the next governor should be relieved did not pass was a proposal to amend the state constitution to take away from the governor the ability to strike out or reduce amounts appropriated in bills without having to veto the entire measure. This ability to eliminate or reduce moneys appropriated for a program or department allowed the governor to let the rest of the bill pass without jeopardizing other appropriations or the program itself.
The worst case scenario, if this measure had been approved by lawmakers and subsequently approved by voters as an amendment to the state constitution, is that the governor would have had to veto say the entire biennial budget if he or she believed that a single appropriation within the budget was unnecessary or excessive. This would have meant calling the legislature back into session to either fix the one appropriation or override the veto while holding up the rest of the biennial budget.
Other measures which did not make the cut this year were more in a series of proposals to add yet additional check-offs to the state income tax form for some worthy purpose. In this case, the proposals were submitted for the worthy purpose of improving the education of youngsters in the community. One measure would have allowed taxpayers to make contributions toward a fund that would provide scholarships for educators while the other would have allowed taxpayers to make contributions toward a library trust fund. Both measures were forwarded by the respective departments of the state administration.
Perhaps state administrators thought that since the lieutenant governor was able to get a check-off through the legislature last year, they would try a similar tactic and go for another check-off. However, as lawmakers were told in testimony presented on both measures, while check-offs sound like an easy and convenient way for taxpayers to support favorite programs or services, they are usually less than successful in providing the funds needed for any particular program.
National studies of the issue of check-off legislation indicate that initially there may be interest among taxpayers to support this or that program for which the money will be earmarked, but as years pass interest wanes and the check-off becomes just another line on the income tax form. Locally, the check-off pushed by the state administration last year allowed taxpayers to designate funds to go into a fund to pay for school repairs. As of the latest report from the department of taxation, a check-off that lawmakers promised would generate hundreds of thousands of dollars produced only $92,000 from this year’s returns. Perhaps that “me-tooism” also prompted another bill to be submitted that proposed that income received by live performers be exempt from the state income tax. As many of the supporters noted, an exclusion from income taxes had been adopted the previous year for performances that were recorded on high technology mediums such as CD’s and DVD’s. Figuring that if those artists could be exempt from paying taxes on income received from those recordings, why shouldn’t live performers also be exempt?
While the me-tooism seems to make a lot of sense, it overlooked the fact that the tax incentive adopted earlier was to encourage high technology use and development and not performances. But in any case, it was still poor tax policy. And that poor tax policy gave rise to this year’s proposal.
Common sense ruled when it was noted that while live performers opined that they made no money because they had all these expenses for their sound people and musicians, etc., one lawmaker said that if they didn’t make any money, then they probably would have no income tax liability. And as one lawmaker asked, what is a live performer? Does it include a member of the symphony or for that matter a lap dancer at a local strip club?
Well-intended, but ill-conceived, thank goodness lawmakers had the sense not to approve the bill.

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