Lawmakers reject income tax

  By Julie Fann
  
  jfann@starhq.com

  NASHVILLE -- Area lawmakers on Monday announced their opposition to a graduated state income tax recommended by the General Assembly's Tax Structure Study Committee. Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City; Rep. Jerome Cochran, R-Elizabethton; Rep. David Davis, R-Johnson City, and Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, released statements against the initiative.
  "We've gone through this for six years, and I was convinced from the first that an income tax is not constitutional in Tennessee. We're like Florida in that it can't be done here because our constitution protects us from that," Crowe said during a telephone interview. "This has been tried many times by the Supreme Court, and each time it has been upheld that you can't tax general income ... It's not a privilege, but a right to have that income."
  Crowe said the legislature needs to manage the state budget using other methods such as eliminating the $4.8 billion in debt created from the overburdened TennCare program, the state's health insurance program for the poor and uninsured.
  "I would like to see TennCare looked at from a different perspective. We have become the state in the nation to live in if you're too sick to get insurance anywhere else. TennCare is intended for those who don't have salaries high enough to get insurance. We need to go several steps further and make sure premiums keep the program afloat," Crowe said.
  Jerome Cochran could not be reached for comment before press time. In the released statement from Nashville, he said: "With reference to an income tax, my record speaks for itself. I am not only working against an income tax while in Nashville, but campaigned against an income tax, and I am convinced that it would be an undue burden on the people of Tennessee if an income tax is passed."
  Tennessee case law indicates in at least three cases over the course of three decades that a state income tax is unconstitutional except "upon incomes derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem", according to Article II, Section 28 of the Tennessee Constitution. Income tax advocates want to persuade activist judges to overturn the reasons for the unconstitutionality of an income tax in those previous decisions.
  A constitutional amendment by referendum requires passage by a simple majority of each house during one General Assembly and passage by two-thirds of each house in the next General Assembly. Once that occurs, the question is placed on the ballot in the next gubernatorial election and must receive a majority of the ballots cast in the governor's race. The earliest the question could be put to the people by referendum would be 2010.
  Rep. Matthew Hill stated: "Throughout my entire campaign, I have spoken to people from one end of my district to the other, and overwhelmingly they sent me to Nashville to uphold our Constitution and protect them against an income tax. I pledged to do that in my campaign, and I look forward to working in Nashville to prevent the passage of an income tax."
  Rep. David Davis stated: "After having dealt with an income tax problem for six years and having spoken to all throughout my district, I am more convinced now than ever before that we do not need an income tax, and I will not support this solution to budget stability in Tennessee. First, we need to reform programs like TennCare and to manage and spend the money that we have wisely."
  Sen. Crowe represents Senate District 3, which includes Carter and Washington Counties. Rep. Cochran represents House District 4 which includes Carter County. Rep. Davis represents House District 6 which includes part of Washington and Hawkins counties, and Rep. Hill represents House District 7, which includes part of Washington County.