Monday, January 20, 2003

Hobbs on the Job

Yep, Bill Hobbs continue to monitor Tennessee's tax and revenue situation with a cold, clear eye. In this post from today, he looks at a Tenessean interview with new Governor Phil Bredesen that offers real hope that Bredesen understands the necessity of spending reform and not more tax increases, or instituting an income tax.

One thing to note: Bredesen still leaves open the possibility of an income tax during his (presumptive) second administration. He clearly says that he'll campaign on that need and that he'd also want a voter referendum on the issue. That "voter referendum" is the current gov-speak, that Hobbs has already noted, for a constitutional amendment or convention. It's recognition, finally, that mere legislative or executive fiat won't get our leaders to the fiscal firehose of money they desperately want. They'll have to take it to the voters first, and convince us that they can be responsible.

The track record of the past four years is going to be a tough one to overcome, however. Especially with Jimmy Naifeh still running the State House like Al Capone and the Chicago Mob. Our leaders have shown they don't understand fiscal restraint, that they will avoid the tough decisions, that they are cowards and craven lackeys of numerous narrow, non-voter interests.

Bredesen can lead here, where Sundquist merely offered cover for everyone to hide behind. But with recent announcements of cost overruns at TennCare, as well as the reverification debacle, and the teacher salary-equity ruling, he's facing a lot of big-dollar decisions. (You can read the Commercial Appeal's accurate but limp-wristed summary in this Sunday editorial. You can see that they're still angling for an income tax, but warily watching Bredesen for clues to which way to go.)

As for TennCare, the best solution is to hand back the waiver and return to Medicaid. When a program that covered a mere 4% of the State's population has ballooned to cover almost 25%, something's clearly out of whack. With Bonnyman and his camp followers in the press going after every attempt at reforming the socialist behemoth, serious reform has already been shown to be a slow, torturous and costly undertaking.

It would take real courage for Bredesen to take that path, especially after being elected as the guy who could "manage" his way out of the mess. The press will do to him what they failed to do to Sundquist's about-face on the income tax. Phil will be pilloried. But there is no workable path to sanity with TennCare. Now that it's here there are constituencies--and not just the poor--that feed off it. Cutting them off will produce howls of protest to make the Income Tax Wars look like a warm-up, largely because the State press will be behind them, this time.

It won't be pretty, but it is the only way to go.

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