Kelsey Informs Us on Amendments

State Senator Brian Kelsey
State Senator Brian Kelsey

You might understand that not voting is, in essence, a vote. But did you know that skipping one of the amendment proposals on the November ballot will actually cast a “no” vote on the issue?

This was among the surprising pieces of information State Senator Brian Kelsey told the Midtown Republican Club last night at our September meeting.

His topic was the four amendments plus the wine in grocery store bill. As Senator Kelsey said, these initiatives will be the driving force motivating voters in November. “Governor Haslam is essentially running against a cartoon character,” Kelsey said, adding that Senator Alexander probably won’t have difficulty defeating his opponent either. With these two races pretty much concluded, the only other ballot issues are the amendments and the wine in grocery stores. “They will drive the turnout.”

Kelsey went on to discuss No. 3 on the ballot first. It is the one that will prohibit an income tax from being levied in the state of Tennessee. It reads: “Shall Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following sentence at the end of the final substantive paragraph within the section:

Notwithstanding the authority to tax privileges or any other authority set forth in this Constitution, the Legislature shall not levy, authorize or otherwise permit any state or local tax upon payroll or earned personal income or any state or local tax measured by payroll or earned personal income; however, nothing contained herein shall be construed as prohibiting any tax in effect on January 1, 2011, or adjustment of the rate of such tax.”

He brought home his support for this amendment by returning to July 12, 2001. Kelsey was working in Nashville then and told to “go down to the Legislature and report on what’s going on. It was the day that Lt. Gov. Wilder meandered by Marsha Blackburn’s desk and said ‘it looks like we’re going to have an income tax in Tennessee.’ Blackburn sent out emails to people about this and called radio stations. She urged people to go down to the capitol and honk their horns in protest.” Kelsey said they did come and so many came that state troopers decided to close streets. “People then got out of their cars, troopers put on riot gear and it showed the great spirit of civil disobedience. Opposition to the income tax was clear. The people made it known.

“There and then I decided Tennessee would never have an income tax and I introduced that bill four years later,” Kelsey said. Before that in 1999 the governor went to the attorney general who told him an income tax could happen and it passed in the finance committee. Thankfully, it died. Then in 2002 it came five votes short of passing in the House, stopped short by courageous souls. Then the governor and Jimmy Naifeh tried to pull people in and talk to them but voters spoke and pro income tax people lost their elections.

“In 2004 we had to vote it down again and it was again proposed in 2005. A ‘yes’ on 3 will not only prohibit a state income tax, but it will also stop the City Council and County Commission from imposing a payroll tax, which is still an income tax.”

Aside from stopping the legislature from giving us an income tax, Kelsey says that this proposal will also tackle a constitutional issue “we need to clean up.” Although Kelsey believes the wording of the Constitution on taxes is perfectly clear, and that three times the state Supreme Court has ruled against it, “that was in 1964 and none of our current supreme court justices has ruled on it. The last six attorneys general have all written that an income tax is constitutional.” The Democrats won’t stop trying until it is amended in the Constitution.

Amendment 3 will also be “very good for our state and our economy,” Kelsey says. “It helps employers come to Tennessee.” Partly because they know they won’t have to pay income tax, but also because “they get a higher quality of employees at a lower cost. It will help recruit more jobs to Tennessee, too.”

Then Kelsey observed that “states that live by the income tax die by the income tax. In good times their revenues are better. But the spending goes up, too. In bad years their revenues drop. The worst is Illinois. In 2011 they had to increase the income tax by 67% to make up for the shortfalls. California isn’t much better.

“Reagan understood that if you don’t like something, tax it. That applies to income. In Tennessee we like it.”

As to your not voting meaning a vote, Senator Kelsey explained that due to an obscure provision in our constitution, if you skip voting on an amendment it registers as a “no.” So the people for amendment 3 have to make sure they have greater than 51% to win. Voters who skip this question will just as well be pushing the lever against it.

Kelsey has worked on this issue for a long time and would like to tackle the Hall tax, which taxes dividends and interest and can particularly hurt the retired. But 3’s passage is not a shoe in. “New Hampshire is one of nine states that don’t have an income tax, but this provision failed there.

“Democrats proposed an income tax as short ago as 2010,” so they won’t leave it alone if 3 fails.

“Remember: Yes on 3 Income Tax Free,” Kelsey said.

Tomorrow: Amendment 1 – possibly the one that will have both sides spending a million dollars.

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