Eleven years ago, the Massachusetts legislature slipped a keg of dynamite onto ints statute books. The lawmakers authorized calling a national convention to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting taxes to twenty-five percent of personal and corporate incomes. This week, the legislature is considering rescinding this request, to cut the fuse before the keg blows up in the face of the American people.
Twenty-eight states have already passed this sort of resolution. If four more fall in line, the resolution will be placed before the states for approval as the Twenty-Third Amendment. By halting progressive taxation at twenty-five percent, the Amendment would lop an estimated fifteen billion dollars from federal tax revenues. Its sponsors, of course, hope that the Government will chop its budget by the same amount. But foreign and defense commitments make this impossible. The Government, therefore, will be unable to finance these commitments without walking the tightrope of deficit finance or instituting highly regressive taxation.
The proposed amendment mercifully states that when the nation is in a state of war, Congress could waive the twenty-five percent ceiling. While this temporarily saves the American people from denying themselves funds for their own defense, it also assumes that wars can be turned on and off like a faucet. Military preparations to prevent wars, or to prepare for them, would not come under the "time of war" provision of the amendment.
Until now, Congress has initiated all amendments to the Constitution. But sponsors of this amendment have purposely chosen the harder way--going through the state legislatures--because of public disinterest in State House affairs. With the least amount of publicity, sponsors hope to nudge the amendment through the necessary number of state legislatures and present the public with a fait accompli. In many cases, legislators have been as hoodwinked as their constituents. In Kentucky, the bill was voted before it ever appeared on the legislative docket. In Massachusetts it passed unnoticed in the last minute rush at the end of the 1941 session.
As the number of legislatures in favor of this amendment has crept alarmingly near the number needed for a convention, lower and middle-income groups have begun a long-delayed counterattack. So far, they have convinced seven states to rescind their resolutions. Massachusetts should become the eighth. The bill to repeal the resolution, now before the Constitutional Law Committee, should be reported favorably and passed. Since no one can accurately predict future expenses, the Government should not limit its future budgets according to pre-War II needs.