Thursday, April 01, 2010

TN General Assembly Proposes a Constitutional Amendment Banning Something That Is Already Banned By the Constitution

From the AP:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Opponents of legislation that would declare an income tax and payroll tax unconstitutional in Tennessee say it's unnecessary and strictly political.

The proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 25-7 by the Senate Monday evening. The earliest it could go before voters is 2014.

Even though the state constitution already says an income tax is not allowed, Kelsey said the proposal is necessary because the difficult economic times may prompt lawmakers to try to pass one.

I really don't understand why we need an amendment declaring unconstitutional something that already is unconstitutional. More generally, I don't understand Tennesseans' aversion to a state income tax. For some reason residents of the Volunteer State prefer having the nation's highest sales tax (and one that doesn't meet our revenue needs) and being among the minority of states that tax groceries—even though lowering the sales tax and adding a graduated state income tax would generate more revenue and reduce the tax burden on most of the Tennesseans who aren't HCA execs or who don't suit up for the Titans, Predators, or Grizzlies. (This 2002 article I wrote for the Nashville Scene gives a good overview of the pros, cons, and philosophical underpinnings of different tax structures.)


Anonymous bthomas said...

Read the article. Given the remarks made, one would have to consider the legislation a pre-emptive strike against efforts to expand state government at the expense of wage-earners. Not withstanding the uncertainty of the future, having such a issue firmly established in the Constitution is important. Given the uncertainty of the future, the day might come when, saying it was not contrary to the Constitution, a group of legislators and a governor might push through a state income tax over the objection of the majority of Tenn. voters.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Tinley said...

None of the state income tax advocates with whom I've spoken have any interest in expanding state government. They are simply concerned about meeting our current obligations.

And I still don't understand why such extraordinary measures need to be taken to remove this option from the table forever. Pushing through an income tax "over the objection of the majority of Tenn. voters" doesn't really concern me, because Tennessee voters are entirely responsible for selecting the governor and the legislators.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous bthomas said...

Given recent experience in Washington, placing such a firewall in the state Constitution is understandable. Until FDR no one saw the need for presidential term limits. In this case, legislators are anticipating what might be a problem and taking preventative action. If in the future voters in Tenn. desire to put in place a state income tax, it will require significant effort on the part of legislators. They will not be able to act and then explain things later to voters.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Tinley said...

But if future voters desire an income tax, why shouldn't legislators be able to enact one?

7:50 PM  
Anonymous bthomas said...

With respect, future voters are not restrained from doing anything they want to do up to and including changing the Constitution. But legislators must act within the constraints of the Constitution. This legislation prevents future legislators from instituting a income tax except by gaining specific state-wide approval by voters. Again, given what has recently happened in Washington, the wisdom of Constitutionally constraining legislators from being able to enact new venues of taxation is obvious. Otherwise the citizens of Tenn. might find themselves subjected to a tax policy that does not respect the overwhelming will of the voters. This process insures that the will of the majority will not be disregarded by legislation.

6:58 AM  

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