Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged

By Katherine S. Newman; Rourke L. O’Brien | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Barriers to Change
Inertia, Supermajorities,
and Constitutional Amendments

The legacy of the past—southern opposition to property taxation in the nineteenth century—continues to define the disparities in tax structure and revenue we experience today. Inertia alone leads to the persistence of an underfunded public sector. Politicians are limited in their ability to implement marginal increases in taxes; therefore states starting with the lowest levels of taxation remain at the bottom. But this is not the only way the past haunts the present. Powerful statutory limitations intervene to make it exceptionally hard to change the situation.

Proposition 13, the notorious Jarvis-Gann amendment that rolled back property taxes in California, left a lasting legacy by setting a high bar for any future tax increase. Supermajority rules require a two-thirds vote in the California legislature to increase state taxes. Proposition 13 was considered an innovation—for better or worse—in its own time. In truth, the southern states beat it to the punch decades earlier.

At the height of the Great Depression, when most states were scrambling to generate revenue to assist an increasingly unem-

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Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Tables xv
  • Preface xvii
  • Acknowledgments xliii
  • Chapter One - The Evolution of Southern Tax Structures 1
  • Chapter Two - Barriers to Change Inertia, Supermajorities, and Constitutional Amendments 31
  • Chapter Three - The Geography of Poverty 57
  • Chapter Four - Tax Traps and Regional Poverty Regimes 86
  • Chapter Five - The Bottom Line 125
  • Conclusion - Are We Our Brothers’ Keepers? 149
  • Appendix I - How Many Lags of X? 163
  • Appendix II - Tables 175
  • Notes 183
  • Index 207
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