Gov. Don Sundquist is touring Tennessee for state tax reform, frightening the populace with ghastly warnings of a Titanic-like financial crash ahead. Business groups are wringing their hands, afraid that the Legislature will sock it to them in the special session on taxes that Sundquist is vowing to order this fall, and outraged conservatives are straining the bounds of political civility.
Those rowdy right-wingers at the Tennessee Conservative Union have likened Sundquist’s yearning for higher taxes to an addict’s craving for cocaine. The Tennessee Family Institute accuses the governor of practicing economic voodoo, and GOP state Sen. Mike Williams claims Sundquist is making a pact with the Evil One himself.
“Democrats know as well as Republicans that it would take a deal with the devil...to impose an unwanted income tax on the people of this great state,” Williams wrote in an open letter to the governor.
Sundquist hasn’t actually ever managed to say publicly that he’s for the dreaded income tax. It was only last spring, after a lifetime of denouncing the income tax, that Sundquist began saying he would sign one into law if the Legislature enacted one. That was during the last special session on taxes. Before lawmakers could vote, an avalanche of angry constituent e-mail crashed the state’s computer system, and everyone fled the Capitol in chaos.
The governor still insists he isn’t promoting any particular brand of tax reform. But conservatives aren’t buying it. They are convinced that Sundquist, once their reliable ally, somehow has been duped into a vast left-wing conspiracy to stick it to the people.
“By joining with Tennessee’s liberal elite, Don Sundquist has betrayed every principle he ever stood for, if he ever stood for any,” the anti-tax crusader Tommy Hopper declares in the latest media missive from his group, the Free Enterprise Coalition. “Where is the courage, Don? Why didn’t you run on this in your safe campaign last year?”
How can Sundquist overcome the overwhelming public opposition to the income tax? An odd collection of do-gooders, special-interest lobbyists, and rich white guys are waging a summer “educational” campaign on the need for tax reform. They hope to raise $1 million for TV ads, hardly a big buy for such a difficult task. “That’s about $9 million light,” scoffs Bill Fletcher, the Democratic political consultant.
In high-profile speeches across the state this summer, Sundquist is sounding alarms. Without tax reform, disaster looms ahead for state government, he warns. “Let’s not wait for a financial catastrophe to do what we must,” he cries. “We can see the iceberg up ahead. We have time to turn the ship.”
Sundquist is looking at calling the special session in early November, hoping lawmakers would enact tax reform before Thanksgiving. It’s not likely that many Tennesseans will feel very thankful.
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