The special language subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee is where the smelliest blood sausage of the legislature gets made. Today, Sen. Jonathan Dismang used it to attempt to insert a tax break for fracking sand into the law, outside of the usual process of voting it through both houses of the legislature.
Tim Leathers, chief deputy at the Department of Finance and Administration, objected to the provision. He said it was unconstitutional to add such a measure in a session nominally reserved for fiscal issues. It would also be costly.
My witness in the meeting says the tax break failed on a roll call vote — needing 29 votes it got 21. But Dismang expunged the vote and may well try again.
Rep. Hank Wilkins, who co-chairs the Special Language subcommittee, asked Leathers to explain why DFA considers the amendment unconstitutional. Leathers said the provision is unconstitutional for two reasons. First, it makes a substantive change to statutory law without going through the “two-thirds” process required of non-appropriations bills in a fiscal session. Second, it breaks the constitutional rule about limiting a bill to a single subject, because it inserts a change to tax policy in a fiscal bill. Leathers says that in the late ’90s, the state Supreme Court ruled that such a legislative maneuver was not allowable: spending requires a spending bill, a policy change requires a policy bill.