Proposition 4 explained: What you need to know about the income tax question before Election Day

HOUSTON – On Election Day, Houston voters will cast their ballots for mayor, several city council seats, a transportation bond issue and 10 proposed amendments to the state constitution, which deal with everything from retired law enforcement animals to a flood infrastructure fund.

One proposed amendment, Proposition 4, would make it more challenging for future state lawmakers to impose a personal income tax. 

Currently, Texas is one of seven states without a state income tax and there’s little likelihood that could change anytime soon. 71% of Texans oppose an individual state income tax, according to a 2019 poll by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Tribune. Yet, state lawmakers want to make the unlikely prospect of such a tax even more remote.

So, how would this proposition change the state constitution? 

Below, we break down the amendment so you can head to the polls prepared on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

How it will read on the ballot:

“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.”

What it means:

Proposition 4 would prohibit the Texas Legislature from imposing a personal state income tax. 

How it would change the constitution:

As it stands now, 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 reducing property taxes.

Proposition 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.

Arguments for :

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) co-authored the proposition and said it's necessary 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."

Proposition supporters have also said the amendment would send a message that the Lone Star State is committed to maintaining a business-friendly, low-tax economy.

Arguments against:

Critics contend that the proposition is unnecessary because the mechanism to create an income tax is already cumbersome. The state's financial needs will change over time and the proposition would make it more difficult for future Texas lawmakers to impose a state income tax down the line.

Others have criticized the proposition’s lack of clarity on what constitutes as an “individual”. They say the proposition fails to specify that the individual income tax ban refers to people, opening it up to interpretation that businesses should be legally considered individuals and are exempt from state taxation, according to a report from from the House Research Organization.

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.