Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pay Up! The Sixteenth Amendment

The Sixteenth Amendment was ratified (Or was it?  Controversy to follow...) on Feb 2, 1913, and authorized the collection of an income tax on American citizens.  Prior to this amendment, taxes were apportioned among the states, according to population.  Since this method was not a proportional one, and nothing in the Constitution authorized it, an amendment was needed.

The text of the amendment is short and to the point:

"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever
source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to
any census or enumeration."

That's it - your annual April 15th headache, in a nutshell.  Fork it over, citizens.

But as I mentioned, there was (and still is, in some fringe circles) some doubt about whether or not the amendment was ever actually ratified.  Those who take that position point to the fact that in some states, at least, the text the legislatures voted on had various typos, not the precise wording of the amendment (the differences being mainly matters of some word not being capitalized or some other word being in the singular instead of the plural - nothing that changed the actual content or intent of the amendment).  Some claim that since the legislatures in question did not vote on the precise wording of the amendment, they didn't really ratify it (and some go so far as to say that some bodies deliberately misspelled words in order to later claim they never ratified).  The fact is, the states have no authority to alter or edit what they were voting on - it's an up-or-down vote and if they voted for an income tax proposed by the federal government, then they voted to ratify the amendment.

But who among us doesn't secretly wish that maybe those folks are right and the income tax will be repealed?

Not gonna happen.  Not without a new tax to take its place, anyway.  Which sets up another interesting question:  if a future president and Congress decides to alter the way in which revenue is collected for the federal government (a consumption or value-added tax, for example), does the Sixteenth Amendment need to be repealed?  After all, the amendment merely authorizes an income tax, but doesn't mandate one.  Can we trust our representatives to leave the amendment intact and not use the power granted by it?  Or is it simply the nature of government to grow and accrue power, as Madison and the Federalists warned, and it's up to We, the People, to rein it in when necessary?

On a lighter note, here are a couple clips about taxes from one of my favorite movies (and no doubt what we all imagine Congress and the IRS to act like):

Next up:  The office-holding amendments

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