Sunday, December 21st, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Lima
Rhode Island "didn't ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to pay federal income taxes. So Rhode Island doesn't even have to pay federal income taxes."

Charlene Lima on Thursday, June 13th, 2013 in a speech on the floor of the Rhode Island House of Representatives

R.I. State Representative Charlene Lima says Rhode Islanders don't have to pay federal income taxes because the state never ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

There was a lot of debate on the floor of the House of Representatives June 13, 2013, about the National Popular Vote bill.

Once enough states ratify it -- and nine already have -- Rhode Island would be required to cast its Electoral College votes on behalf of the presidential candidate who, on a national level, gets the highest popular vote, regardless of who wins the presidential contest in Rhode Island.

The proposal is designed to discourage candidates from focusing exclusively on battleground states such as Ohio and Florida.

One opponent of the plan, which has already received the endorsement of both the House and Senate, was Rep. Charlene Lima, a Cranston Democrat.

In her speech on the House floor, carried live on television, she spoke of the "fiercely independent" history of Rhode Island and offered this example: "We didn't ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to pay federal income taxes. So Rhode Island doesn't even have to pay federal income taxes. We never ratified that."

PolitiFact Rhode Island did a double-take.

So we don't have to pay our federal income taxes?

Before we wrote to the government to demand a big refund, we called Lima.

When we couldn't get through to her right away, we checked some history.

It turns out that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. It had nothing to do with the federal income tax.

Rhode Island not only ratified that amendment, we were the second state to do so, on Feb. 2, 1865.

The amendment that created the federal income tax was the 16th Amendment. It was ratified by 42 of the 48 states in 1911, 1912 and 1913. (Alaska and Hawaii were not states at the time). Rhode Island rejected it, so Lima is correct about that element of her statement.

Then we got to the big question: If Rhode Island didn't ratify it, is Lima correct to say that Rhode Islanders don't have to pay income taxes?

No more than Mississippi residents could continue to own slaves after it rejected the 13th Amendment in 1865. (It would take Mississippi another 130 years to formally approve that amendment.)

Lima's statement "is wrong in so many different ways," said Jared Goldstein, professor of law at Roger Williams University School of Law.

On the issue of paying taxes, the fact that Rhode Island did not ratify the 16th Amendment "does not matter in the least," he said. "Under the Constitution, an amendment becomes part of the Constitution upon the ratification by three-quarters of the states. Under the Supremacy Clause, the U.S. Constitution trumps any contrary state law, which means that states are bound by the Constitution regardless of whether they ratified every part of it. Otherwise, each state would only be bound by the parts of the Constitution that it agrees with, and there would be chaos."

So it doesn't look as if we're going to get that refund.

When we heard back from Lima, she said she might have named the wrong amendment, she does pay her federal income taxes and "I think people have to pay them."

She said her comment was "kinda more tongue in cheek."

After her statement on the House floor, she said, the chairman of the House Finance Committee, Helio Melo approached her. "He said, 'I wanted to get up on the floor and say, Don't listen to Rep. Lima,'" Lima said.

On this issue, we agree.

Rep. Charlene Lima had the wrong amendment and the wrong lesson from history when she said Rhode Island "didn't ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to pay federal income taxes. So Rhode Island doesn't even have to pay federal income taxes."

Because her statement falls into the realm of ridiculous, we rate it Pants on Fire!

(If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, e-mail us at politifact@providencejournal.com. And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.)