Sen. Crowe co-sponsors bill to establish state constitutional convention

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) has stated that he will co-sponsor a Senate bill with Republican Senators Curtis Person and Mark Norris which could allow citizens to vote in August on calling a limited constitutional convention. The convention would concentrate on revenue reform and the state's tax structure.
   Senate Bill No. 3156 could implement a management performance based accountability system similar to Total Quality Management (TQM) or Management By Objectives (MBO). It would require each Department of the State to review each piece of legislation that pertains to each department within the government and determine whether the laws are obsolete, overlapping in function, or driving up costs or spending.
   Sen. Crowe hopes the public will vote on the bill that he views as a step in securing citizens constitutional powers. "The power to tax or limit taxation and expenditures is derived from our Constitution," Sen. Crowe said. "Article II is presently understood to prohibit a tax on income except for investment income from stocks and bonds. The governor and legislators cannot change the constitutional rule of law that prohibits a general tax on earned income. The people have that right."
   Under the Crowe, Person and Norris Plan, all Tennesseans would have the opportunity to vote in this August's primary election to decide on the establishment of the constitutional convention. If the public votes in favor of the convention then the Senate will elect delegates to the convention at the general election in November.
   Delegates elected would convene all year long to decide whether or not the state needs to change its tax structure. Reforms could include repealing the tax on stocks and bonds, adopting limits on taxation, altering sales tax, or implementing an income tax. The convention's decisions will be presented for approval at the polls not later than the next general election in 2003.
   In the meantime the senators believe Tennessee can fund its needs through conservative modifications to the existing sales tax system, reallocating other revenues, and continuing to reduce the size of the government.
   Between 1928 and 1960 the Tennessee Supreme Court has made four rulings that a tax on general income is unconstitutional. Each ruling was decided with a 5-0 vote. The latest ruling, which has never been overturned, was the Jack Cole Company v. Macfarland. The decision handed down stated, "Realizing and receiving income or earnings is not a privilege that can be taxed. Privileges are special rights, belonging to the individual or class, and not the mass. Since the right to receive income or earnings is a right belonging to every person, this right cannot be taxed a privilege."
   Sen. Crowe believes that there is clearly a precedent in the state on the issue of taxing general income, and asserts that the bill he co-sponsors will make sure the precedent continues. "I have promised to vote no to an income tax and I will keep my word," Sen. Crowe said. "The power is inherent in the people and the Crowe, Person and Norris Plan restores the people's right to exercise that power and show respect for our established rule of law."