The state’s ‘third rail’

Has state Rep. Lon Burnam grown tired of serving in the Texas Legislature?

The Fort Worth Democrat has filed a bill calling for a state income tax on individuals or families earning more than $100,000 annually.

What? A state income tax? In Texas, where lawmakers once determined that the only way to enact such a thing is to amend the Texas Constitution, which requires a popular vote? His rationale is that the Texas tax system is archaic and doesn’t fund education, public health or transportation adequately. He’s right. Any dramatic reform of the state’s tax system needs to include the income tax — but it likely won’t happen, given Texans’ longheld antipathy toward a personal state income tax. Just as Social Security is the “third rail” (touch it and you die) on Capitol Hill, the state income tax plays a similar role in Austin.

Give the man credit at least for speaking out before he declares his intention to leave office. Maybe the other shoe will drop soon. Then again, maybe not.

Two Democratic lieutenant governors tried in the 1980s and 1990s to move the income tax debate forward. Bill Hobby tried it first, then backed off it, even though he had announced his plans to retire. Then came the usually fearless Bob Bullock. He, too, floated the income tax idea, only to scurry away from it.

Now comes Rep. Burnam, who’s already filed a resolution to impeach the Republican presiding judge of the state Criminal Court of Appeals.

There must be something in the water in Cowtown.