by Mel Griffith
The income tax folks are at it again. After Gov. Sundquist spent four years unsuccessfully trying to con the public into supporting the tax its supporters sort of faded away for a while. But they haven't given up, they are just plotting new schemes. The latest effort to raise our taxes is a report from the Tax Structure Study Commission appointed by Sundquist before he slunk away into the hills. It's otherwise known as the Personal Income Tax Commission. After 41 meetings it has discovered that what Tennessee citizens really need is the opportunity to pay state income taxes. Surprise, surprise. It could just as well have made that recommendation at its first meeting and skipped the other 40, because everyone knew from the start that the only purpose of the commission was to promote a state income tax.
They explain that the reason we need an income tax is that every few years there is a revenue "train wreck," that is, the state runs out of money. They didn't mention that the reason the state has a periodic financial crisis is that the state government recklessly spends every cent it can get its hands on, so that if the economy slows down a bit, nothing has been saved to support the ever-expanding bureaucracy. In the past, the usual response to the crisis has been to raise the sales tax once again instead of bringing spending under control. Now that the sales tax has been raised through the roof, they face the prospect of having to manage spending unless they can find another tax to raise the next time irresponsible spending creates a crisis. That's where the income tax comes in. If they can start it out small and convince the public it won't hurt much, they can keep raising it the same way they have done the sales tax, which started out at two percent, and is now nearly ten. Besides that, they propose to sell the idea to the public by including a slight decrease in the sales tax for a while. It can then be raised back up along with the income tax, enabling the government to double-dip into our pockets.
The new push for an income tax contains the usual double talk about how most people will pay less while the government collects more. But when the state sucks money out of the economy it is gone, no matter what the tax is called or who pays it. In the end, everyone pays more because the tax is a cost that gets hidden in prices and everyone ends up paying, no matter who actually sends the money to the government. There is also the usual effort to make it appear that lower income people pay more sales taxes than those with higher incomes. This is not true. Those who spend less money pay less tax, though it may be a bigger portion of their income. Why shouldn't poor people pay their fair share for the government services they receive? Is it cheaper to educate their children? Do they use law enforcement less? Don't they drive on the roads? They certainly use more TennCare and probably more Human Service attention. Many of them also get benefits such as food stamps and public housing not available to the rest of us. It has been clear for years that the majority of Tennesseans do not want an income tax. The social engineers who want to use one to redistribute wealth need to move to a state that has one. The federal government already uses a graduated income tax to punish people for being successful. That's enough without the state piling on.
What's the point in working hard if the state and federal governments are going to gang up to punish you for it so they can reward those who won't.