State House Votes to Ban Income Tax, Tells Poor to Fend for Themselves

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Rep. Glen Casada
  • Rep. Glen Casada
The state House voted overwhelmingly today to amend the state constitution to ban the income tax. No one has seriously gotten behind the income tax in a decade—not since Gov. Don Sundquist tried it and was publicly vilified along with just about everyone who sided with him—but Republicans think it’s necessary to make certain it never happens again.

Democrats made all the usual compelling arguments against this amendment (it kills any future attempt at tax reform, screwing the poor forever and saddling us with a regressive, consumption-based system in an uncertain, changing economy) but who cares about any of that? Talk radio rules!

The vote was 73-17. Republicans cheered as Rep. Glen Casada called for letting the downtrodden fend for themselves.

“You raise yourself out of poverty and you don’t depend upon government to do it for you,” Casada declared. “It’s not government’s role to take care of those who are down and out.”

The Senate adopted the resolution last year. Now, it needs to pass the next General Assembly by a two-thirds vote—a sure bet—and it will go on the ballot for voter approval in the 2014 election.

The state Supreme Court has ruled three times — most recently in 1964 — that the constitution already prohibits an income tax. But the state attorney general issued an opinion in 1999 saying the tax was permissible. Republicans say a constitutional amendment is needed to resolve the issue.

“I’ve got my state constitution out and, even though it clearly says there’s not to be a state income tax in Tennessee, we know we don’t have to go very far to find a judge who will say it doesn’t say what it says. That’s what has happened before,” House GOP leader Gerald McCormick said.

McCormick noted acidly that the last income tax debate—which attracted a talk radio-incited mob to the Capitol—is “a good part of the reason we have 64 seats in the Tennessee House right now.”

Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, warned Republicans the state might wind up without any means of financing core services unless Congress starts letting states tax Internet sales. That’s already knocking an ever-growing hole in Tennessee’s finances.

“I’m standing before you today telling you that if they do not do this in just a very short period of time probably in the next decade we’re going to have smaller government, alright, because we won’t have enough money to run this government.”

Update: State GOP chairman Chris Devaney attacks Democrats for voting against the resolution.

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