A Collin County House lawmaker’s plan to more deeply discourage anyone trying to drum up support for an individual income tax in Texas is headed to the November ballot.
Plano GOP Rep. Jeff Leach’s House Joint Resolution 38 would give voters a choice to make an income tax — already strongly frowned upon, because for 26 years, the state Constitution has said that requires a vote of the people — even more problematic.
If voters agree with Leach on Nov. 5, future proponents of a personal income tax would face an even steeper climb: They’d have to win support from two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature and a vote of the people to repeal his 2019 change.
Leach’s proposal squeaked through both chambers by narrow margins.
Late Monday, it finally passed the Senate, 22-10, with one more than the minimum required for a constitutional amendment. On May 9, it cleared the House, 100-42, with 100 votes the bare minimum there.
The result left progressive tax analyst Dick Lavine of the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities stunned that 20 House Democrats, especially newly elected ones in so-called swing districts, provided Leach with critically needed votes.
“It turns out that if any one of those people had voted the other way, it would’ve died,” he said of HJR 38.
Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, was among four Dallas-area Democratic representatives who voted for it. The others were Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, Rhetta Andrews Bowers of Rowlett and Victoria Neave of Dallas.
Johnson, asked why she supported Leach’s plan, replied, “My constituents don’t want a state income tax. And that’s what I’m here to do is represent them. It’s an unnecessary amendment, though, because it’s already in our Constitution.”
In 1993, at the urging of then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat, voters approved an amendment that lets the Legislature impose a personal income tax only if voters approve in a statewide referendum and if the new revenue goes to school property tax cuts and education programs.
Freshman Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, echoed Johnson in her explanation of why she cast an “aye” for HJR 38. She and South Texas Democrats Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Eddie Lucio Jr. were the only Democrats to support it.
“We’ve existed as a state and generated enough revenue in our state with regard to how we fund public schools and … public health … without a personal income tax,” Powell said. “The general will of the public is that we continue to do that.”
Powell dismissed a suggestion that pressure from fiscal hawk and GOP activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads the group Empower Texans, was a factor.
“I didn’t worry about Empower Texans too much during the whole election cycle and I’m not going to start … today,” she said.
In floor debate late Monday, Dallas Sens. Royce West and Nathan Johnson tried to change Leach’s legislation to clarify that lawmakers don’t intend to impair existing state taxes on businesses. The two Democrats agreed with Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities that Leach’s amendment opens the door to lawsuits attacking the current business-franchise tax or margins tax.
Lavine questioned why Leach chose to delete the Constitution’s description about whom the Legislature can slap an income tax on — “natural persons.” Instead, HJR 38 says the Legislature can’t tax the incomes of “individuals.” Backed up by a Legislative Budget Board analysis that raised the same question, Lavine said an individual might be considered a “person,” which under current law can mean corporations, too.
The Republican-controlled Senate rejected Johnson and West’s efforts. Leach defended his wording.
“They are misguided,” he said of the two Democrats and Lavine. “The smartest lawyers and experts agree with us on this — and the people of Texas, from all parties, reject an income tax. Plain and simple.”