By Rob Mitchell, Rutherford County Property Assessor

There is an ever-increasing push to expand government services, there will be an attempt to find ways to fund these government services. It is well known that except for the Hall tax, Tennessee has no income tax (which was removed by amending the State Constitution). Since 1946, Tennessee has relied on the sales tax as the primary source of state funding. Before 1946, the State also relied on a property tax.

The state property tax went away (sort of), but not the empowering legislation that makes it so potentially dangerous. With the simple stroke of a legislative pen, it could again be set into motion.

TCA 67-5-101 states, “All property, real and personal, shall be assessed for taxation for state, county, and municipal purposes, except such as is declared exempt in part 2 of this chapter, or unless otherwise provided.”

It is there in black and white. Words mean things. Just because you don’t use your kitchen dishwasher does not mean you don’t have a dishwasher in the house. You could use it at any time when the burden of washing dishes by hand becomes too onerous. State finances are the same. At ANY time, the legislature could vote to levy a tax—likely under the guise of issues such as education or healthcare.

You may say, “This could never happen,” but it almost did just a few years ago. When the Legislature was considering a State Income Tax, that was not the first choice. The first choice was to levy the State Property Tax again, but former Governor Don Sundquist caved to well-heeled monied property owners who knew it would be easier to skirt paying their fair share of income taxes because accountants could shield their wealth through accounting tricks. The State Property Tax would not afford them the same ability to not pay what they owed. So, they pushed the income tax instead.

How do we solve this in the future? The quick fix is to change the Tennessee Code Annotated, removing the inclusion of the word “state” from the property tax provision. A long-term fix will require an amendment to the state constitution and an outright prohibition. The Americans For Prosperity (AFP) organization has picked up the call to constitutionally remove the word “state” because they realize the time to act on this is sooner rather than later. Article II, Section 28 of the Tennessee Code defines that “all” property (real, tangible, and intangible personal property and mixed properties) be subject to taxation. As the Property Assessor of Rutherford County, I understand what a drain this would be on the hardworking citizens of one of the nation’s fastest-growing communities. I hope you will assist us in making more citizens aware of this.

You can read an excerpt about early taxes in Tennessee here:

For more information on this issue, see this recent video segment on WWTN 99.7, when Americans For Prosperity advocate Tori Venable and host Pamela Furr talk about the importance of prohibiting a state property tax in Tennessee at 1:23:38