Shelby County DA Bill Gibbons pounced on Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam on the tax issue today at a Brentwood Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate for the Republican candidates for governor. Noting that Haslam has raised taxes, Gibbons said the mayor's TV ad, the first of the governor's race, is misleading when it claims Knoxville's property tax rate is the lowest in 50 years.
Strangely (he must have been expecting this attack, right?) Haslam seemed caught off-guard and gave a strange sort of technical response about calculating taxes as the percentage of property value.
Here's the exchange:
Gibbons: "The most important decision he made as mayor was his first year in office when he faced a budget shortfall and, rather than cutting the budget, he decided to raise property taxes by 15 percent and increase the budget. ... Knoxvillians are paying 15 percent more in property taxes now as a result of Mayor Haslam's financial decision."
Haslam: "I'm the only person sitting up here who's ever had to prepare, propose, pass and implement a budget. The property tax rates in Knoxville right now are at the lowest rate in over 50 years. We don't have records before that so we don't know. And they've always been figured the same way, so it does have something to do with executive leadership. Right now, you pay taxes on the percentage of the value of something. You're paying less as a percentage of the value of your home than at any time in recorded history. You're not paying less as a percentage of the value of a loaf of bread you buy or the percentage of the value of the income you bring in."
Gibbons: "The fact is the citizens of Knoxville are paying 15 percent more in property taxes as result of Mayor Haslam's proposal his first year in office. That's the fact. He's been riding that property tax pretty well. For five out of the last six years he's been in office, Knoxville's budget's been going up."
As Gibbons went on the attack, Zach Wamp wore a devilish grin and Ron Ramsey gazed at the ceiling like a schoolkid hoping no one thinks he's the one who put those tacks in the teacher's chair.
"That's really, really a stretch of political-ease right there," Wamp finally said of Haslam's defense.
The under-funded Gibbons is a loose cannon as the odd man out in the primary and desperate for attention. When the tax topic came up, he said, "I'm glad you asked that question." Before he finished he also slapped Haslam over his father Jim's involvement in a pro-tax reform group more than a decade ago. Later on the topic of privatizing highways, Gibbons joked, "I'm certainly not in favor of Pilot Oil taking over any of the roads."