State Senate passes initiative to ban income tax

Monday, March 29, 2010 at 11:45pm

The Tennessee Senate took the first step Monday to amend the state constitution to ban the income tax, beginning a two-year political process to place the volatile issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

The Senate vote was 25-7, and there were only a few minutes of debate. If the House also passes the resolution this year, and the next General Assembly approves it by a two-thirds majority, the referendum would go before voters in 2014.

"If you want less of something, tax it. If you want more of something, don't tax it," said the resolution's sponsor, Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. "We all want more income in Tennessee, so let's make sure that we never tax it."

Arguably, the state constitution already bans the income tax. The state Supreme Court has ruled that way three times, but opinions from the state attorney general have raised questions about those decisions.

In 2002, the legislature refused to passed a state income tax advocated by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist. The proposal drew rowdy protests, and Sundquist was vilified by his own party. If the income tax had become law then, everyone expected its constitutionality to be tested in court.

Kelsey wants to end any uncertainty by amending the constitution. His resolution allows the existing state tax on interest income from stocks and bonds, but he said he'd like to ban that later as well.

"Opposition to an income tax is very strong right now," Kelsey said, "so now is the time to clarify this issue once and for all and to put it before voters so they can speak."

Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, joined six other Democrats in voting against the resolution. He's a longtime foe of the income tax, but he said he opposes Kelsey's resolution because it would put future lawmakers in a box.

"It's a wretched system of taxation in my opinion," Henry told the Senate. "I intend to continue voting against it. But Mr. Speaker, I'm not going to be here forever. I can't read the tea leaves to know what's going to happen 20 or 30 or 40 years from now. I don't know what kind of box we're going to be. ... I don't believe this takes the long view with respect to the necessities that come up after we are gone. I don't believe I can look far enough into the future to say the day may never come when this unpleasant necessity may be foisted off upon us." 

10 Comments on this post:

By: Kosh III on 3/30/10 at 6:03

A solution in search of a problem. Once again the legislature fiddles while the economy burns.

By: samueladams on 3/30/10 at 7:39

Given the lack of legal expertise shown by our current Attorney General by raising the question of whether or not the Tennessee Constitution plainly excludes income as a source of possible taxation, and knowing that the possibility of having such a legal light-weight in that office again is very possible, insuring the citizens of this great state that our already out of control state government will never be able to stick their hands into your pockets even further, only makes sense.
Eliminating the possibility of a personal income tax will provide the constant incentive for business to locate themselves in our state, as it already does, as well as to provide one more concrete reason for others from high tax states to relocate to our state. That the vast majority of other taxes the state already collects. Nothing makes more sense that to eliminate all question regarding an income tax. Now, if we could only eliminate the Halls tax...

By: vechester on 3/30/10 at 8:24

Take a look at the states that are in most financial trouble. They happen to be the ones who have the highest overall taxes, income and other.

Now take a look at the few states that do not have income taxes: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Two others, New Hampshire and Tennessee, tax only dividend and interest income which is bad enough!

Here's a clue to liberals or progressives, or whatever you are calling yourselves these days: more taxation does not create jobs and government's do not create jobs, they only take money away from those that do!

By: localboy on 3/30/10 at 9:13

If the majority don't want a tax, they won't vote one in...this is a case of a minority running scared. Perfectly legitimate issue, just remember that sensible, responsible people don't have to go along with it.

By: pswindle on 3/30/10 at 9:34


If this passes, and the state is in great need, then what? I'm not for a state income tax, but you never know what the future holds. When the GOP gets control, the silly stuff begins.

By: xhexx on 3/30/10 at 10:33

How about getting rid of the "Professional Privilege" tax? Why should I have to pay a tax for the "privilege" of earning a living? Sounds like an "income" tax to me.

By: samueladams on 3/30/10 at 10:40

Unfortunately, pswindle, has a point about the Republicans... when GWB was in power, we get the largest entitlement since the "Great Society", until Obamacare of course; we get "No Child Left Behind" accompanied by the largest increase of education spending in decades, although not enough for the Democrats if one remembers; we get a president who states that he must abandon the free market in order to save it. Good grief!!! Sadly, the state government is often just as irresponsible when Republicans are in control as when Democrats are. If one cares to notice, that is one of the issues being fought out in the GOP now. Sadly, what pswindle does not seem to understand it that government ALWAYS wants more and will ALWAYS take all that it can. That is the only way it survives and the only way to control it is to deny access and to control it's "weight" whenever possible.
The illness that is progressivism has infected both political party's but it is essence "killed" the Democrat party. A party that today is so leftist that it would probably not allow John F. Kennedy to me a member. Talk about a "party of inclusion". Right.
Progressivism has been creeping into the Republican party for a long time as well. Just look at Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, the Bushes, Jon McCain, Olympia Snow, et al.
The point of the Tea Parties, the 912 organizations, etc., is to stp the growth and intrusion of the government ... local, state and federal. The desire is to actually govern using the Constitution of The United States as the guide-line. That has not been done for generations. We the people of Tennessee see out of control government all around us. We see an educations system that indoctrinates more often than educates; we see a judiciary state and federal that more and more bends the Constitution to whatever direction they perceive the prevailing societal winds to be blowing at the time; we see executive branches "ruling" by fiat and decree; and it goes on and on an on.
Wen given the opportunity, stop governmental action. Government, especially at the federal level was intended to be very limited. Try reading the document. If we the people wan it otherwise, there are methods of changing it. It is not by simply passing legislation, by presidential decree or by juducial ruling.

By: JohnGalt on 3/30/10 at 11:37

As xhexx points out, the General Assembly in its infinite wisdom determined that a select few professions shoud be privileged to pay an extra tax in order to earn a living. Miraculously excluded were insurance sales agents and real estate agents, the two largest member groups in the state which, by the way, have the largest number of lobbyists. Just a coincidence, of course.

By: samueladams on 3/30/10 at 12:53

I hope none paying the Professional Privilege tax also don't own tanning salons 'cause your'll get whacked twice by the recently passed Private Insurance Reform/Destruction legislation

By: TharonChandler on 3/31/10 at 7:49

A state income tax in Tennessee could help to fight 'white collar crime' and to assist the IRS in the huge job it has in front of it. It is one thing to finagle someone's existance on the federal codes and forms yet identity theft gets more personal closer to home.

The state income tax should be a 'flat tax' just as the federal income tax should be; with a low rate for all and the elimination of all 'loopholes' for anyone.