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Kelsey Likes Proposal to Cap Sales Tax — Just Not on His Income-Tax Ban

Sen. Brian Kelsey is sponsoring a measure to give voters the chance to end, once and for all, the long-running debate over whether an income tax is constitutional in the state of Tennessee.

But the conservative Germantown Republican said Monday he opposes a House amendment added to his resolution last week that would additionally cap the state sales tax in the process of outlawing the income tax.

The amendment, proposed by House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, and approved by the House Finance Subcommittee on a 7-6 vote, is actually a “poison pill,” said Kelsey, R-Germantown.

Its real purpose, he alleges, is to ensure that the anti-income tax language never ends up on a Tennessee general election ballot.

“The process for amending the constitution in Tennessee is very difficult. It requires a simple majority vote in the House and Senate the first go-round — but it also requires a two-thirds vote the second go-round” before it can go to the people, Kelsey told TNReport. “(Naifeh’s) amendment was put on to make sure there wouldn’t be a two-thirds vote.”

Kelsey suspects Naifeh’s motivation for adding the amendment is to “leave the door open for an income tax” down the road. The former House speaker famously tried mightily — but ultimately failed — to push a tax on work-earnings through the Legislature in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Kelsey added, however, that he is not at all opposed to capping the sales tax at its current combined state-and-local rate of 9.75 percent. He said he’d fully back that effort as a separate constitutional amendment.

The anti-income tax resolution, SJR 18, has already been approved by the Senate, 28-5. It is scheduled for a hearing this afternoon in the House Finance Ways & Means Committee.

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