Say “income tax” today and you are likely to get a earful from many Americans who have waited until the deadline to file their returns. Everyone thinks they pay too much in taxes, and the federal income tax (which a Tennessean, Cordell Hull, helped to create in 1913) is generally considered to be the most painful of all.
Opposing the income tax is often a winning strategy for politicians in this state. That’s why the Tennessee General Assembly is expected to give final approval this year for a state constitutional referendum on an amendment to prohibit the collection of a state income tax.
The proposed referendum would appear on the gubernatorial ballot next year. Critics of the amendment argue it seems like a lot of time and a heck of a lot of money to waste on something that even proponents of the measure say the courts have already ruled to be forbidden in Tennessee.
Even so, supporters say the amendment is needed to make sure that the courts or backsliding Tennessee lawmakers never try to sneak a state income tax into existence.
The income tax has long been a political “bogeyman” used by some lawmakers to distract Tennesseans from a sensible debate on tax reform. One practical approach to addressing the revenue issue is to change the state’s antiquated tax system. Such reform would conceivably allow the state to significantly scale back an oppressive sales tax that weighs the heaviest on poor Tennesseans struggling to feed and clothe their families.
And, yes, a serious debate would require discussion of a state income tax. But lawmakers in Nashville don’t want a serious debate on tax reform. Critics of the anti-income tax referendum say it is simply a political stunt, and such gimmickry does not help the state meet its fiscal needs.
Supporters say the absence of a state income tax has made Tennessee an ideal place for retirees from other states to locate. They also argue Tennessee’s status as a low-tax state is also inviting to businesses.
We want to hear from you. Should Tennesseans approve a state constitutional ban on a state income tax?
Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification purposes.
We will print responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.