A week after one of his cabinet members floated the idea of a tourism tax increase, Gov. Don Sundquist has apparently backed off the controversial idea, instead proposing other sweeping tax reforms and reiterating staunch opposition to a state income tax.
To the background noise of Lt. Gov. John Wilder’s notoriously offensive throat clearing, and before a joint convention of the state House and Senate, Sundquist this week proposed the Legislature eliminate the sales tax on grocery food and institute a ”fair business tax“ to replace the state’s franchise and excise taxes.
All together, the governor’s proposals, which came during the annual State of the State speech, make up what he termed the ”Tax Relief and Fairness Act of 1999,“ and would give the state an additional $400 million in annual revenue. Average Tennessee families would save an estimated $500 a year in sales taxes, Sundquist said. Meanwhile, Tennessee businesses would be taxed uniformly, without regard to how they are organized. ”For companies looking for a fair deal,“ the governor said, ”our state will be even more attractive as a business location. But those looking for tax loopholes should look elsewhere.“
The governor’s proposal to eliminate the sales tax on groceries seems to represent the cheese on top of the bitter broccoli. The suggested plan, which also calls for the state to reimburse localities for the lost sales tax revenue, seems to have broad support. But the jury is still out on the newly outlined business tax, which is expected to hit some Tennessee companies hard and provide relief for others.
The governor, who characterized his proposals as the most sweeping tax reforms since Democratic Gov. Austin Peay’s reform efforts in the 1920s, seems to know he may be in for a tough legislative session. ”I didn’t get off the melon truck yesterday,“ Sundquist said, briefly deviating from his prepared speech. ”I know you will be heavily lobbied, especially since our tax applies to lobbyists too, but make sure the lobbyists aren’t the only ones you listen to.“
The governor predicted the Legislature would hear an ”outcry from those who have had a free ride and now object to paying their fair share. You will hear from those who say we ought to preserve special breaks for some businesses and impose an income tax on working Tennesseans. ...All an income tax does is raise the tax burden on Tennesseans and create a way to finance the easy and endless expansion of government. Tennessee does not need a state income tax.“
Charter schools still on
The state teachers’ union nearly jerked its collective knee out of its socket during the last legislative session when it successfully killed the governor’s proposal for charter schools, which are publicly-funded schools allowed to operate independently of heavy-handed bureaucrats.
But fervent opponents to one of the most innovative trends in public education across the country shouldn’t read anything into the fact that Sundquist was silent on the subject during this week’s State of the State address.
”It didn’t get into the speech, but we are going to pursue it,“ a Sundquist press aide told the Scene.
Sundquist has promised to bring back the legislation, which met its death last year when public school teachers balked at the notion, among others, of allowing people who are not certified teachers to be instructors in charter schools.
For instance, a career computer programmer, union representatives reasoned irrationally, wouldn’t be qualified to teach a computer course in a charter school.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd this week on Monica Lewinsky and Tennessee’s Ed Bryant, who represents the state’s Seventh Congressional District:
”Being interrogated about her improvident romance for the 23rd time, she easily handled Tennessee Congressman Ed Bryant, turning him into a stammering schoolboy.
” åO.K.,’ the former U.S. attorney asked the 25-year-old, åUm, tell me how you, um, beganI guess thethewe’re going to talk about a relationship with the President. Uh, when you first, uh, I guess, saw him, I think there was some indication that you didn’t speak to him maybe the first few times you saw him, but you had some eye contact or sort of smiles or....’
”The saucy and wily Monica was up to the crucial task of putting the clueless House managers in their place.“
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