HOUSTON – Texas is one of seven states that does not have a personal income tax.
State law makes it difficult for the Legislature to pass one by requiring a state referendum, but Proposition 4, which is on the ballot in November, would make it even harder.
Voters already have the last say on a statewide income tax. If approved, the money from such a tax could only be used for education and to reduce property taxes.
Prop 4 would throw out those stipulations and replace them with language that simply prohibits the Legislature from enacting any individual income tax. That means the only way it could be put before voters in the future would be as a constitutional amendment.
"There already was a hurdle to get state income tax in Texas," said Rice University professor Mark Jones. "Now, they've made it even higher and more difficult."
Critics contend that Prop 4 is unnecessary because the mechanism to create an income tax is already cumbersome. Recent polls show that more than 70% of Texas voters oppose a state income tax.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is a co-author of Prop 4 and said it's needed to keep a lid on taxes.
"If you're against the state income tax, you need to vote yes for Proposition 4," Bettencourt said. "Don't listen to anyone else or any other input. If you're against state income tax, you vote yes on Prop 4."
The strongest opposition is coming from teachers' groups who believe education is underfunded.
"There's no need for it because income tax is already banned in the Texas constitution," said Andrew Dewey, vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. "Further, the message is that rather than working on a useless prop, the state needs to work on revenue streams so we can do what's necessary to properly educate kids."
Other critics have said the state's financial needs will change over time and future Texans shouldn't be restricted from considering an income tax.
Supporters have said an income tax would stifle the state's economic growth.