Leach and Fallon

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano (left), and state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, worked together to push a proposed Texas constitutional amendment that will make it much harder to enact a state income tax. Voters will decide whether to approve Proposition 4 in the Nov. 5 general election.

DRC_Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

Dear Watchdog:

I recently got a note on Messenger that we will be voting on “income tax for the State of Texas.” It sounded very confusing. If it’s true, please inform your readers about it. It sounds like ‘no’ means ‘yes.’ And ‘yes’ means ‘no.’

Signed, Felix Ugarte of Garland.

Dear Felix:

You nailed it. We will be voting in November on a state income tax. Sort of. And the language on the ballot is confusing enough that “no” means “yes,” and “yes” means “no.” Sort of.

Let me explain.

We will not be voting in the coming election on creating a state income tax in Proposition 4, a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution. Rather, we will be voting on the opposite.

The vote is designed to make it harder to create a state income tax. Currently, it takes only a majority of state lawmakers and then a majority of voters statewide to create a state income tax.

If voters approve Proposition 4 next month, in the future it would take a supermajority (two-thirds) of state lawmakers in both the Senate and House (rather than a mere majority) to support an income tax. If approved by the politicians, it still would require approval by a majority of state voters.

Prop 4 is a message from our conservative Republican lawmakers to future generations that they don’t dare try to create a state income tax without a major hassle.

Two Dallas-area legislators pushed this through the 2019 Legislature. State Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, and State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, were the authors of House Joint Resolution 38.

These three words — state income tax — are so hated by most Texans that they are almost unspeakable. It’s hard to imagine a Texas income tax. Prop 4 doubles the hurdle.

Passage in Austin this year was in itself a giant hurdle. The measure needed 100 votes in the House, and fell short at 99. But then House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, in a rare vote as speaker, flipped it to 100.

A similar drama occurred in the Senate, where a few Democrats were needed to join all Republicans to gain final approval. Most Democrats disapproved of this, but enough jumped the fence to push it over the finish line.

I contacted the Texas Democratic Party for the party’s view on the ballot question, but did not hear back by deadline.

Rep. Leach says, “Really this is a statement to the people of Texas and the rest of the nation that we are open for business. ... One of the reasons our economy is so strong is because we trust the people, and that’s what this proposition is all about.”

Sen. Fallon says, “We need to provide that certainty” to businesses that there won’t be a future income tax.

“It’s one of the reasons we’re not bleeding jobs to New York, Illinois and California. It’s the other way around. It’s a very important signal to send.”

Problems identified

I’m not here to argue the merits of an income tax. I only want to make sure you understand how this works.

There’s a couple of problems I’ve identified in the process.

The first is online chatter that, not surprisingly, gets this wrong.

I saw one online posting headlined “Texas Voters Beware!!!.” It explains that “A yes vote supports the amendment to permanently ban a state income tax.”

See, that’s wrong. It would not permanently ban. It only makes it harder to get passage in a future legislature.

The other problem is the wording. When lawyers write these ballot questions they often make it difficult for voters to decipher their legalese. Too many times “no” means “yes,” and “yes” means “no.”

The actual ballot language is: “The Constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”

Say what?

If The Watchdog were writing it, it would read like this: “Do you support changing the Texas Constitution so that it would require a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority of the Legislature to create a state income tax?”

“Yes” means: I want it to be tougher to create an income tax.

“No” means: I don’t want it to be any harder than it already is.

But if you’re looking at the ballot question and “prohibiting the imposition” of a tax, you might believe that “no” means no tax. “Yes” means an OK for an income tax.

That’s not far-fetched.

It’s one of 10 propositions, and most are written in annoying legalese. The potential for confusion is great.

“We’re seeing some confusion online,” acknowledges Fallon, who told me he is still undecided about whether to challenge U.S. Senator John Cornyn in a 2020 GOP primary.

Leach says a statewide campaign called “For Prop 4” will launch in the coming days.

If clear and concise language were involved, that wouldn’t be necessary. But that’s asking too much, I know.

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