Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tea parties with weapons

Just for the sake of argument, suppose people were upset about taxes.


Suppose Americans were alarmed enough about rising government spending and debt to organize tax protests, even "tea parties," and forcefully express their opposition to the constant whining from various quarters that taxes are not high enough.


Is there anything that could be done about it?

Glad you asked.

Back in the late 1970s, California voters were so outraged over skyrocketing property taxes that they used the initiative process to pass Proposition 13, an amendment to the state constitution that slashed property taxes to 1 percent of the 1975 assessed value or most recent sale price, allowing just the slightest increase every year to pay for bonds approved by the voters for specific purposes.

To this day, people who make a living by coaxing money out of Sacramento are furious about it.

That's just too bad, because Proposition 13 has more public support than a redwood tree in the path of a strip mall developer.

What does this have to do with federal taxes?

Did you know that the U.S. Constitution can be amended?

Did you know that a brand-new amendment has the same force of law as if it had been part of the original Constitution in George Washington's day?

Of course you did.

But did you know that the Constitution can be amended by the legislatures of the states, without the approval of Congress, the president, the Supreme Court, or any of the fifty state governors?

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary," Article V of the U.S. Constitution begins, "shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof...."

Hypothetically, suppose the enraged "tea party" protesters gathering in cities across America on Wednesday were to decide to support anti-tax candidates for their state legislatures. Hypothetically, suppose these candidates got elected.

Suppose two-thirds of the state legislatures in the United States called a constitutional convention and proposed a flat-tax amendment.

Suppose the amendment cut federal income taxes to one percent of gross income.

Suppose the constitutional convention passed this amendment and sent it out to the states for ratification, and suppose three-fourths of the states ratified it.


The entire income tax code of the United States would go straight into the trash, and everyone in the country could stop thinking about it.

Every year, Americans would owe one percent of their income in federal income taxes.

And that's all.

You wouldn't have or need any deductions and you wouldn't have or need any tax shelters.

You could spend and invest without altering your decisions because of tax law.

It would be a good idea, hypothetically, for the amendment to include a provision that authorizes Congress to set the minimum income that would be subject to federal income taxes. For example, Congress might decide not to collect income taxes from people who earn the minimum wage for a forty-hour week.

Other than that, Congress would no longer have the power to reward and punish selected Americans by fiddling with the tax code every two years. Or every two months. Or every two hours.

If we used the amendment process to lock the tax code in place, taxpayers and investors would be able to make long-term plans without wondering what the law will be five years from now. The tax code would be out of reach of politicians of both parties.

That's because a constitutional amendment can only be changed with another constitutional amendment. A simple majority, even a two-thirds majority, in the House and Senate won't do it.

It's fine to carry signs and throw tea in the harbor, but if Americans really want a tax revolt, the constitutional amendment is the weapon that won the West.

Copyright 2009