Thursday, January 15, 2009

Verdict is in: Legislative session will be very bad and the actual cost to you will be very high

The most honest politician I've ever covered on any level of government, former Rep. Frank Buck of Dowelltown, characterized the first week of the 2009 Tennessee legislative session this way:

"The hatred in both camps is at an unprecedented level. The way people have felt about Congress is the way they will feel about the General Assembly. The public is so tired of that nationally; they'll get tired of it in Nashville, too."

Remember, that even President Bush with his 28 percent approval rating was topped -- or better put "undermined" -- by Congress at 15 percent. All the partisan crap we got so tired about with Congress will be the order of the day in the General Assembly.

And more than on your nerves, the real impact of this heightened partisanship will be felt in your pocketbook come property tax time. In Williamson County, that's September and October.

The governor, who has delayed his State of the State address until mid-February in hopes of rescue from the man he asked not to come to Tennessee during the presidential campaign, must now come up with more than $1 billion in budget cuts. The layoff of 2,000 state workers has been cited. But the cut no one wants to talk about is the large slice in the local share of state aid.

That means your property taxes will have to be raised to make up for potential cuts to schools, police and other services. Already, Nashville public schools are having to cut almost $10 million in spending.

They really won't be able to cut more without laying off teachers, which is an impossibility with the district so long out of compliance with No Child Left Behind Act requirements. Chief Ronal Serpas told a council committee earlier this week that his department needs more officiers or he will not be able to hold down the crime rate.

The worst thing about the raising of property taxes is that people who have been laid off from their jobs will be in no position to pay more. A hike in a state income tax to the contrary would only make those people with the means to pay responsible for the deficit. But Tennessee does have a state income tax.

The underhanded way in which supposedly outgoing House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and then Gov. Don Sundquist handled a state income tax has forever doomed that levy in lieu of higher sales tax forever. And this session is not going to give the people more encouragement to trust lawmakers with that kind of levy.

So now, business at the state Capitol will become even more convoluted and more removed from the people's real needs amid an economic recession.

Buck predicts both parties will simply dump on the governor and let him take the fall for the budget cuts, throwing their arms up to signal helpness. Yes, these lawmakers -- mostly Democrats -- are helpless, and useless to us.

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