Tenn. Senate votes to put income tax ban on ballot

Tenn. Senate OKs placing constitutional amendments to ban state income tax on next ballot

Associated Press
Tenn. Senate votes to put income tax ban on ballot
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State Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet, left, confers with fellow Republican …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee's Senate voted Thursday to place proposed constitutional amendments to ban a state income tax before voters.

The chamber approved the measure on a 26-4 vote, and if the House concurs, it would be placed on the ballot in next year's general election.

The political fallout from failed efforts to impose a state income tax more than a decade ago has already made renewed efforts exceedingly unlikely. But Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown said his proposal is aimed at eliminating any uncertainty about the measure in the future.

Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, one of the four Democrats to vote against the measure, likened himself to "the skunk at the garden party" for raising concerns that the proposal would also eliminate the possibility of payroll taxes on employers.

"If you're going to rule out an income tax, you should not rule out the payroll tax, because we may very well need it some time," Henry said.

He stressed that he has long opposed the income tax, including during his time as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, when three governors unsuccessfully sought his support for changing Tennessee's sales tax-based system.

But the state's fiscal situation could become difficult with the payroll tax option off the table, he said.

The final serious attempt to enact a state income tax occurred in 2002, when former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist and Democratic leadership in the Legislature sought to overhaul the state's tax system.

The proposals led to talk radio-fueled protests at the Capitol and included a brick being thrown through the window of the governor's office. The measure ultimately failed, and several supporters ultimately decided against running again or were defeated as part of a public backlash.

Democrats have since lost control of both chambers of the General Assembly.

Kelsey is also the sponsor of a constitutional amendment to give the lawmakers the power to confirm or deny the governor's appointments to the state Supreme Court. A scheduled vote was put off for a week on the request of Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis.

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