Texans received a stronger safeguard this month against any state tax being imposed on the income they earn through their hard work and initiative. That’s because Texans voted overwhelmingly Nov. 5 to amend the state constitution to make the future imposition of a state income tax even more difficult.
To be clear, Texas does not currently have, nor has it ever had, an income tax on individuals. And Texas is all the better for it. We have among the strongest, fastest-growing economies in the country, with high-paying jobs in many industries. The most recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows Texas has the fastest-growing economy among all U.S. states, growing by 4.7 percent.
Individuals and businesses both large and small are moving to the Lone Star State in ever-increasing numbers. It’s not by accident. The reason is simple: an environment of reasonable regulations and low taxes. And nothing sends as loud a signal of low taxes as a constitutional amendment all but prohibiting the imposition of one (in this case, an income tax).
Now that the dust has settled, many Texans are left wondering why a tax measure — not to mention so many other issues, including the adoption of retired police dogs and the issuance of water bonds — must be dealt with via a constitutional amendment.
To be sure, the Texas Constitution is a lengthy document and has a far greater number of amendments than the U.S. Constitution. The current version of the Texas Constitution dates to 1876 and has been amended more than 500 times. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution contains only 27 amendments.
But the documents belong to the people and are ratified and amended only when the people so choose, through a long and difficult process. In Texas, it takes a two-thirds vote of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then a majority vote of the electorate.
Both are seminal documents, outlining values and limiting the power of the government over the citizenry. Remember the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, “We the People…” — it stands true in Texas as well.
The preamble to the Texas Constitution reads in part, ”…the people of the State of Texas, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” The first article adds “That the general, great and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established, we declare…”
The language is important: “We declare.” “We the people.” “the people… do ordain and establish.” The people do this; not just their elected representatives, but the people themselves. Both constitutions belong to the people and if the people choose to amend it, they may do so. The task is purposefully difficult, not to mention cumbersome.
In Texas, we seem to find ourselves voting on amendments every other year. We’re not complaining; it’s a more direct democracy. We the people decide, not the legislators.