If Brian Kelsey has his way, residual questions about the constitutionality of a Tennessee income tax (or of a local payroll tax) will be put to rest, as he puts is, once and for all.
Backed by 38 of his House Republican colleagues, the GOP state representative from Germantown has filed a clarifying amendment to the state constitution which he will seek action on in the coming legislative session.
The amendment, designed to eliminate possible ambiguities in existing constitutional language, must pass muster in both state House and state Senate for two consecutive sessions and then be submitted to statewide referendum.
Kelsey's press release on the matter goes as follows:
House of Representatives
State of Tennessee
For Immediate Release / December 11, 2008 Contact: Scotty Campbell (615) 741-1100 x 44512
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE email@example.com
Rep. Brian Kelsey files constitutional amendment prohibiting income tax and payroll tax
(39 House Republicans pledge their support)
NASHVILLE - Representative Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) announced today that he and other House Republicans have filed a constitutional amendment to clarify that the Tennessee Constitution prohibits an income tax and a payroll tax.
"I hope to clarify once and for all that Tennessee is an anti-income tax state. If this amendment passes, we will never have to face another income tax battle again," said Kelsey. "With the current economic realities some will tell you your taxes must be raised. The last thing Tennesseans need to be worrying about right now is having to pay a state income tax or a payroll tax. There are enough taxes already, and state government must learn to live within its means," Kelsey continued. "It's a new day in the legislature, and it's time to put this issue to rest and let the people vote on it."
Thirty-nine of the fifty House Republican Representatives have signed onto the resolution as original prime co-sponsors. Rep. Kelsey originally introduced the resolution in 2007, but that was before Republicans took a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives last month for the first time known since 1869.
"It's time to end this threat that hangs over the people of Tennessee once and for all," said Rep. Susan Lynn, (R-Lebanon). "The infamous income tax battle was a difficult time. With this amendment, we are reassuring the people of Tennessee that they will never face that again."
The amendment specifies that the legislature as well as Tennessee counties and cities shall be prohibited from passing either an income tax or a payroll tax, which is a tax on employers that is measured by the wages they pay workers. A payroll tax has been proposed by elected officials in Shelby County and elsewhere as a way around an income tax ban.
"There won't be any more worry of a payroll tax scaring jobs away from Shelby County or any other county in this state," Rep. Kelsey continued.
There have been several cases before the Tennessee Supreme Court throughout the state's history that have upheld that the income tax is unconstitutional --the most recent being in 1964. These cases have never been overturned. Nonetheless, elected officials in Tennessee have proposed both an income tax and a payroll tax in years past.
"It is sometimes necessary to clarify parts of our Constitution to clear up misunderstandings," said Rep. Casada (R-College Grove), House Republican Assistant Leader. "I look forward to working on this constitutional amendment with my colleagues, and I pledge my support."
In order for a constitutional amendment to pass, it must first be approved by a simple majority in both the House and the Senate in 2009 or 2010. The next General Assembly in 2011-2012 must then approve the amendment by a two-thirds vote in each chamber. At that point the amendment is placed on the next gubernatorial ballot for ratification by the people, which would occur in 2014.
Under the language of the amendment, the current Hall tax on income from stocks and bonds would remain unchanged.
Those Republicans who are prime co-sponsors so far (Shelby Countians in bold) are: Kelsey, Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads), Rep. Glen Casada (R-College Grove), Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Lebanon), Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville), Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin), Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas), Rep. Joshua Evans (R-Greenbrier), Rep. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), Rep. Phillip Johnson (R-Pegram), Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville), Rep. Chad Faulkner (R-Luttrell), Rep.Curtis Halford (R-Dyer), Rep. Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough), Rep. Eric Swafford (R-Pikeville), Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), Rep. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville), Rep. Jim Cobb (R-Spring City), Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett), Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson), Rep. Jon Lundberg(R-Bristol), Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma), Rep. Kent Williams (R-Butler), Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) Rep. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Rep. Mike Harrison (R-Rogersville), Rep. Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga), Rep. Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville), Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett), Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova), Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), Rep. Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport), Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), and Rep. Vince Dean (R-East Ridge)