After two weeks of hand-wringing, the Senate Finance Committee finally voted Tuesday on the state income tax, sending a bill to the floor. But despite this momentary victory for tax-reform advocates, no one is betting the special session will end in anything but low comedy. Most likely, lawmakers will slip on banana peels, poke each other in the eyes and generally make fools of themselves yet again before fleeing the Capitol in shame. When it happens, don’t blame Republicans. Blame the Democrats.
Sure, the right-wingers dominating the GOP’s legislative caucus are loathsome demagogues, spouting misinformation to whip up public hatred for taxes for their own political gain. But Democrats control the Legislature by a 59-40 margin in the House and 18-15 in the Senate. If they want to enact an income taxand most do, even if they won’t publicly say sothey should take their cue from the Nike ads and just do it. Instead, the party’s so-called leadersHouse Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, and Lt. Gov. John Wilder, the Senate speakercower in their offices, trembling over the possibility that they might offend someone.
Wilder briefly touted his own income-tax plan, but only in secret meetings at the governor’s mansion. When word of this leaked, he quickly released a statement denying he supports any plan at all.
Naifeh is full of big talk about the courage of Gov. Don Sundquist and other tax-reform advocates. But what about the mighty Naifeh himself? He won’t say what he’s for, and he insists that the Senate must vote on the income tax before a single House member is required to expose his or her political butt.
On the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, four Democrats joined two Republicans in voting for the bill. Discarding Sundquist’s flat-rate, low-exemption plan, the committee went with a graduated rate. Rightly, it makes the wealthy pay more. A husband and wife with two children, for instance, would pay no tax on their first $45,000 of income. They would pay a 3 percent tax on the next $5,000 of income and 5 percent on earnings after that.
What about Nashville’s Democratic lawmakers? Sen. Bob Rochelle of Lebanon, whose district includes a few Davidson County precincts, is admirably standing up for tax reform. But Sen. Joe Haynes of Goodlettsville voted no on the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. He is clearly more worried about his own re-election than what’s best for the state. We have a news flash for you senator: No one cares whether you’re re-elected.
The peculiar Sen. Douglas Henry of Belle Meade, who voted no Tuesday too, is really out to lunch. He supports a statewide property tax as the answer to the state’s revenue problems. That idea is so silly that Henry couldn’t even find a sponsor for his bill in the House, a chamber full of silly people.
We urge Democrats to forget political risk for once in their lives and follow the lead of Republican Sen. Gene Elsea. A quiet farmer from Spring City, Elsea disregarded the consequences and agreed to sponsor Sundquist’s income-tax bill because he knows state government needs more money to provide the services nearly everyone expects.
The income tax is not a great sacrifice for most taxpayers. Tennessee now ranks 47th in per capita tax burden. With any of the proposed tax plans, the state would rank about the same. With Sundquist’s, for instance, the state would rank 45th.
Meanwhile, if lawmakers are looking for wasteful spending to cut, why not go after the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which is seeking to pave every piece of ground in the state whether it needs it or not? Or how about the prison system, which is growing at a costly rate mainly because we insist on locking up non-violent drug offenders?
The income tax is obviously a more equitable way to raise revenue than the regressive sales tax. At the same time, it generates enough money to improve public education and to continue providing health care for indigents, uninsured children, and victims of catastrophic illnesses who are kicked out of private health plans.
To Democrats afraid to defend such a tax plan in their next election campaigns, we ask this question: Why do you call yourselves Democrats? Stop whining, and exercise the power of your majority.
Please back up why you think the current Sounds stadium is located in the "Ghetto"…
The only thing I would be willing to conclude about this "report" is that Mississippi,…
What a colossally stupid idea.
No fools like old fools that don't know they are fools, and vote for mainly…
It doesn't matter if it's a good deal or not. If King Carl want's it…