Anyone can help me to understand the meaning of "pass tax"? For example:

The adjective retroactive refers to something happening now that affects the past. For example, a retroactive tax is one that is passed at one time, but payable back to a time before the tax was passed.


The President asked Congress to pass the tax immediately and said that it should apply to all individuals.


Even if the tax passes, though, what remains to be seen is whether it will have any effect on obesity.

I know both the words pass and tax, but I don't know its meaning when combine them together. I tried to look it up on dictionaries but of no luck. Hope someone can help me.

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    When a deliberative assembly such as the U.S. Congress votes to approve a proposed law, they are said to pass it [transitive], or it is said to pass [intransitive]. When the proposed law has the sole or principal effect of imposing a tax, it may simply be termed a tax, and the same usages of pass can be applied to it. Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 9:47
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    Roughly speaking, pass the tax = pass the proposed tax law.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


People who do not understand how law works create unintentional ambiguities when they equate the result of the law, the "tax" in this case, with the actual law itself. The two should not be used interchangeably, because they are two separate concepts. This should be obvious from the context of the question you yourself asked.

A tax is NOT passed. A law to impose a tax is passed. The tax becomes effective either immediately, retroactively (occurring in the past), or prospectively (not starting until the future).

The reason this distinction is so important, is because laws can be changed over time, and have a history that can be tracked at any point in time. In fact, tracking the history of a particular law can be a very time consuming process, with multiple amendments at different periods.

To speak in the manner you wish, instead of using the word passed on the tax, use the similar past tense verb imposed.

Using your example, a retroactive tax is one that is imposed at one time, but payable back to a time before the law was passed.

Edit: Another way to think of it is that the process of creating a law is in two steps. First, Congress passes a law. Second, the law imposes a tax. You can see that there are two actors in this case, and that shortening the phrase to "pass tax" for simplicity may cause later confusion.


Easy ! It's to vote a tax. So if the law is voted, you pass your tax. You shall find this in Law dictionaries. "The law is passed...Extraordinary !" (Justice A. Scalia)

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