EDITORIAL: Your decide

Constitutional restrictions sought for state income tax

Early voting has begun for the Nov. 5 general election. This is an off year, and few state or federal positions are on the ballot. However, voters are asked to decide the fate of 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

One of the proposals would officially ban a state income tax. If the amendment is approved, another constitutional amendment would be necessary in order to impose such a tax.

We support the measure, which is Proposition 4 on the ballot.

Currently, an income tax can be created with a simple state referendum, although some restrictions apply. Voting for Prop. 4 would make the ban part of the Constitution, which would make the tax harder to create. Doing so would require two-thirds of both houses of the state legislature to approve a new amendment proposition to rescind the ban, and that proposition would then be put before the voters.

Texas is one of just seven states that do not tax personal income, and it is a major selling point for attracting new businesses and residents to the state. Several major sports stars have chosen to sign with Texas-based professional football, baseball and basketball teams because they are able to keep more of their income. Business owners have come to the state so that they and their employees can enjoy the tax savings, and many actors and entertainers live here for the same reason.

Many people support an income tax, however. They note that state revenue relies heavily on property and sales taxes, and that Texas ranks in the middle or lower half of the country in funding for many social services.

State lawmakers have received, and rejected, bills that would create an income tax in several recent legislative sessions.

In 1993, voters approved a constitutional amendment that would require voter approval of any income tax. Legislation to place such a referendum on the ballot would require only a simple majority of lawmaker votes, not the two-thirds required for a new amendment. Revenue from an income tax would be dedicated to funding education, and be tied to reductions in property taxes that currently are used for that purpose. The proposed ban removes those conditions, so that if lawmakers ever voted to propose an income tax, they would be free to create new conditions and parameters.

Supporters of Prop. 4 note that the ban doesn’t make an income tax impossible; passage of a new constitutional amendment would make it happen. Prop. 4 removes restrictions that were placed in the previous amendment, and requiring a two-thirds vote helps ensure that legislators are convinced the tax is necessary and that we won’t see bills to impose or rescind the tax every legislative session.

Opponents note that the legislature meets every two years, and if emergency conditions ever occur, such as a crash in oil and gas revenues that also support education, legislators would have to wait for the next session, or ask the governor to convene a special one, in order to impose it.

Given current state leadership, Texas won’t have an income tax anytime soon. Prop. 4, however, helps ensure that lawmakers won’t tax residents’ incomes unless they’re convinced it’s necessary.