Friday, January 24, 2003

I Knew It, I Knew It!

I wrote in a previous post that the Commercial Appeal's editors still seem to be waiting to start the push for an income tax. Even though reporters, columnists and editors have all repeated the idea that "the income tax is dead" -- though always for varying periods -- there still clung to their words the whiff of a desire to bring it back up.

Well, it's happened. In today's lead editorial, the CA finally pulls the knife from its sheath. The editorial starts out like the one I mentioned above, with the usual doom-colored glasses view of the State's budgetary landscape:
TENNESSEE'S new governor, Phil Bredesen, has yet to find a magic wand he can wave over the budget problems created or exacerbated by the state's failing tax structure.
Remember that phrase, "magic wand." And note that it's the tax structure that's failing the budget, even though revenues are rising, and not the budget which is abusing the revenue stream (a point Bill Hobbs also makes today).

Then, to truly belabor the point, they make a strained allusion to Sisyphus, who was fated to constantly roll the same boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down every time. They seem to want you to believe that trying to create a workable Tennessee budget within our current revenues is a hopeless task.
Largely because of inaccurate presumptions about how much the state could save by changing TennCare rules, this year's $9.4 billion budget has a projected $322 million deficit. Soaking up most of the state's reserves and continuing a hiring and travel freeze can narrow that gap.
Isn't this precious? Trying to whitewash the malfeasance of the Sundquist administration's handling of figures and projections involving budgets has become a sideline of the paper. There's a world of investigation hiding behind that "inaccurate presumptions," which the paper will never look into. By the way, the shortfall amounts to 3.4 percent -- hardly an apocalypse.

The rest of the editorial trots out the usual suspects and even throws in the Arlington Development Center fiasco. But the final paragraph is my vindication:
The long hill Tennesseans must climb alongside their new governor will only get steeper until modern, progressive ways to pay for state government are adopted, and the search for the magic wand is given up as hopeless.
Ah-HA! There it is. Though they try a bit of misdirection there with the tortured metaphor, it's clear that the CA does see a "magic wand."

We call it by a more mundane name: income tax.

Notice, too, that it's Tennesseans that the paper singles out here, and not the legislators. We already work hard at our lives and jobs to keep ourselves above water. It's profligate, corrupt, inept and duplicitous legislators (and a certain former Governor) who bear the true responsibility here.

But the fact remains that even if an income tax is instituted that is merely replacement for the present tax system, it will still fall short by (from the CA's own numbers) $500 million. More taxes, or higher ones, will be needed. And therein is the rub that the CA hopes most voters won't notice, especially if they don't say anything either.

Let's suppose that the income tax proposed last time was passed. It would have moved the tax burden from 100% of the population (plus all the visitors who pass through the State) who buy things in varying degrees, and transfer it to the 40% of Tennesseans who are labelled "wealthy." We would still be $500 million in arrears! And so, after only a single year, the income tax would have received its first upward adjustment. Since only 40% of the population would have been affected, legislators could count on a majority of voters being behind them in making the wealthy "pay their fair share." Fait accompli.

I knew it. Didn't I tell you?

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