Tennessee is one of a very few states with no state income tax. It’s not entirely a coincidence that I decided to move there six years ago.
The Republican Gov. Don Sundquist won reelection in 1998 campaigning against an income tax. He said, “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.”
By 2000 he had decided Tennessee needed to “create a way to finance the easy and endless expansion of government.” He claimed the government faced a budget disaster that could be avoided only with – guess what! – a state income tax.
The governor, political leaders and the press bombarded the public with dire forecasts and pleas for an income tax.
A lot of people were skeptical, however. Many of them drove to the state capitol in Nashville – honking their horns continually to protest what the politicians were doing. The legislature finally adjourned in 2000 without imposing an income tax.
Back by unpopular demand
But the politicians were right back again this year – pushing for their beloved income tax. They said that without an income tax $800 million in essential government services would be eliminated.
And, of course, they claimed the new income tax would be very tiny and would tax only the very rich. Just like the original federal income tax, I guess, which originally imposed a tax of only 1 percent on incomes of $56,000 or more, with a maximum of just 7 percent for incomes over $7 million (both dollar figures adjusted for inflation to 2001).
Strange how new taxes, once in place, begin to bleed more and more people with higher and higher rates that kick in at lower and lower levels.
Such bait-and-switch techniques don’t always work, however. Talk-show hosts Steve Gill of WTN-FM and Phil Valentine of WLAC-FM, together with Richard Pearl and the Tennessee Libertarian Party, rallied people from all over the state to bombard the politicians with e-mails, horn-honking and protest lines.
Finally, the legislature relented last weekend and passed what The Nashville Tennessean christened “the ugliest budget.” It includes no new taxes and supposedly eliminates critical services.
Just the facts, ma’am
The citizens had won again. But at what cost to society?
Monday evening, WTVS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Nashville, told us.
It showed film of an elderly Nashville couple who rely on state nursing employees who come to their home. But those employees have been fired because of the “budget cuts” and the couple may have to move into a nursing home.
The TV report didn’t say it opposed the “ugly” budget, so the station can claim it isn’t biased.
But if you stack the deck in advance, you don’t have to cheat when you deal. The reporter had chosen what to show and what not to show. For example, the TV report didn’t ask:
How can so-called “essential” services be cut when this year’s budget is 5 percent larger than last year’s budget?
Why did legislators cut home-nursing services while spending $1.5 million to plant wildflowers along the highways?
Why would the politicians cut home-nursing services while planning to build a new NBA basketball arena in Memphis?
If the state faces a fiscal crisis, why do the politicians want to spend $1 million for the Country Music Hall of Fame, a quarter million for a golf-cart crossing, and over $1 million to remodel the kitchen at a state park?
Why does the elderly couple have a right to live outside a nursing home, but you don’t have the right to keep the money you earned with your own blood, sweat, toil and tears?
And why no mention of the people who would have had less money available if the income tax had passed: a family having to move into a smaller home or having to forgo braces for their daughter’s teeth – or a woman having to give up her car and walking home from work, vulnerable to muggers and rapists – or a young genius seeing his college money taxed away from him?
Politicians and the press, together again
Gov. Sundquist showed that both major political parties care more about big government than about the taxpayers. The politicians reward their friends with expensive boondoggles – and then say if the budget isn’t approved, they’ll have to eliminate school reading programs and reduce the police force.
And the Tennessee media showed that you get only one side in the press – in editorials or news reports. No journalist has to say, “We must have a tax increase.” Merely by choosing his examples, he lets you know why a tax increase is imperative.
In these days of obscene federal, state and local budgets everywhere, no tax increase can be justified when all the facts are known.
So when a politician says the only choices are a tax increase or a cut in “essential” services, give him what he deserves – a good horselaugh.
And if the press paints a gloomy picture of the services to be cut, find a better source of news.