Texas voters will decide constitutional amendment prohibiting income tax

In November, voters in Texas will decide a constitutional amendment to prohibit the state from levying an income tax on individuals. Legislative Republicans supported the amendment but did not have the two-thirds majorities required in each legislative chamber to pass the amendment without support from some Democrats. In the Texas State House, 100 votes were needed, and 80 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted to pass the amendment. In the Texas State Senate, 21 votes were needed, and 19 Republicans and three Democrats voted to pass the amendment.
Texas is one of seven states without a personal income tax. Currently, enacting an income tax requires a simple majority vote each legislative chamber and voter approval through a statewide referendum. As the 2019 ballot measure would ban the income tax in the constitution, a constitutional amendment, requiring a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber and voter approval, would be required to enact an income tax in the future.
Democratic Sen. Royce West (D-23) said the Legislative Budget Board’s analysis of the constitutional amendment was concerning. The proposed amendment would ban an income tax on individuals, whereas the existing language described an income tax as being imposed on natural persons. The Legislative Budget Board’s analysis stated, “The term ‘individuals’ is not defined and could be interpreted to include entities that are currently subject to the state’s franchise tax. To the extent the joint resolution might exempt some entities from the franchise tax, there could be a loss to state revenue.” Sen. West argued that the term individuals should be replaced with natural persons to “bring clarity to exactly what we’re attempting to do,” but his motion to amend the language was rejected. Republican Sen. Pat Fallon (R-30) responded to West, saying that “‘Individual’ is synonymous with ‘natural person.’” According to the House Research Organization, supporters also argued that the amendment would “keep the Texas economy strong by making certain that the state never could impose a state individual income tax.”
As of May 21, 2019, six statewide ballot measures were certified for the ballot on November 5, 2019, in Texas. The state legislature is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019, and could refer additional constitutional amendments before adjournment. An average of 13 measures appeared on odd-year statewide ballots in Texas between 1995 and 2017. Voters approved 91 percent (145 of 159) and rejected 9 percent (14 of 159) of the constitutional amendments on the ballot during this 22-year period. Across the U.S., 10 statewide ballot measures in four states had been certified for 2019 ballots as of May 21.
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