published Monday, August 20th, 2012

The Right response

Free Press editorial page editor Drew Johnson replies to questions and issues raised in Emails, letters to the editor and online comments in response to Free Press editorials. Submit questions on Twitter: @Drews_Views

Your Aug. 11 editorial, "Gas taxes add up for drivers," acknowledges that, "Gas taxes are particularly unfair because they hit the poorest people the hardest." The very next day, in your editorial, "Tennessee Democrats a Joke," you say that an income tax "would devastate Tennessee's economy and send businesses and residents scurrying ..." You can't have it both ways, can you?

Actually, I can. The consumption-based taxes Tennessee applies to staple goods -- gas and groceries, in particular -- are outrageously regressive and unfair to lower income residents. An income tax would likely cost the state hundreds of thousands of jobs. (Connecticut, the most recent state to adopt an income tax, was economically devastated from the decision and, more than two decades later, has still never quite recovered.)

Preventing an income tax and reducing the unfair burden of state sales and gas taxes on the state's poor are not mutually exclusive. In fact, with just a tiny amount of fiscal restraint, Tennessee can reduce gas taxes, eliminate the grocery tax and remain income tax-free.

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen was notorious for raiding gas tax funds for other projects. Thus far, Gov. Haslam appears to have kept his hands out of the gas tax revenue cookie jar. Now, it appears that gas tax money, which is legally required to go to transportation projects, is actually going to fund those projects. As a result, once a couple of outstanding road projects are addressed, the legislature will have a fine opportunity to lower gas taxes.

The grocery tax costs taxpayers $462 million annually, according to state estimates. That's only 1/67th of our state's $31 billion budget -- a drop in the bucket. If Gov. Haslam and the state legislature simply keeps spending increases in check as the economy rebounds, there's no reason why the sales tax on groceries can't be entirely repealed in just a couple of years.

Maintaining reasonable levels of state spending will also eliminate any need to search for other revenue streams, thus taking the income tax debate off the table.

•••

Mr. Johnson, please hack about 1.5 inches off your sideburns. You look ridiculous.

I don't necessarily disagree with that assessment. It's probably not necessary for an economist/government watchdog who works in Chattanooga writing about conservative politics to wear sideburns that, when left unkempt, make him look like the sidekick from a late-70s cop drama about police officers patrolling the streets of Southern California.

But, the truth is, I have a very smart and attractive girlfriend and she likes the 'burns. (Maybe it's a closeted Elvis fetish she hasn't told me about.) Anyway, she wants me to keep them, so they're staying.

Thanks for the fashion advice, though, Stacy London.

•••

In the editorial "EPB workers rake it in," you have no problem criticizing EPB employees for their high salaries. In the name of fairness, why won't you reveal your salary?

Since EPB is owned by the taxpayers of Chattanooga, EPB employee salary information is a matter of public record under the Tennessee Open Records Act. The Times Free Press is privately owned and, therefore, is not.

But to take it a step further, if EPB pays 52 employees more than $100,000 a year (which they do), those costs are reflected in your electric bill. In essence, these highly-paid government employees are a tax that EPB electric customers have to pay every month.

If my salary caused the Times Free Press' subscription price to increase (oh, what a glorious thought!), you could simply cancel your subscription. If EPB's substantial employee salaries raise the cost of your electric bill, you're stuck. Your only real option is to move or live without electricity -- neither of which is particularly practical for most folks.

The article was my attempt to make EPB customers aware that, by local standards, the electric provider's salaries are quite high and, since those comparatively high employee costs are passed on to you, you're ultimately paying for all of those six-figure salaries. Now that EPB knows someone is watching, it's my hope that their salaries become more reasonable over time and that any subsequent cost reductions ultimately result in lower electric bills for customers.

•••

Clay Bennett and his liberal cartoons make me furious! Is there anything you can do to get rid of him?

While Clay may not appreciate the virtues of free enterprise, I can assure you that the owners of this paper do. Clay is one of the most widely read parts of the Times Free Press and his cartoons almost always generate more web traffic than anything else in the paper. As a result, Clay makes money for the paper -- and plenty of it. And as long as that's the case, Clay isn't going anywhere.

Look on the bright side, while Clay is attacking conservative principles and free market economics (with good humor and great talent -- he truly is one of the most gifted editorial cartoonists in America), he is generating lots of money for lots of rich Republicans. And that has to be his worst nightmare

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Your attempt to get us outraged over the pay of EPB employees only revealed how empty your own argument was. I find it strange that you think your watching is of any concern to EPB. You just want us to get outraged that some people are getting well-paid and assume that they aren't worth it. Which is why you hide your salary, because otherwise you'd have to admit people can be paid that much and it be valid. Dishonest criticism is actually more likely to validate the criticized's course of action than otherwise.

Actually, these replies as a whole reflect an avoidance of rebuttals while pretending to deal with critics. It's kinda dishonest really.

Also for a state that's economically devastated, how does Connecticut have a GDP almost equal to Tennessee's with about half the population? Even more impressive when you consider they aren't doing it with a surfeit of natural resources. Somehow I doubt you've actually got facts to support your assertions.

August 20, 2012 at 12:52 a.m.
gjuster said...

Drew -

You're the reason that I have started to read the editorials again. Good job

August 20, 2012 at 6:49 a.m.
aae1049 said...

On the important issue of your side burns, don't change a thing. It is cool to very un Lee Anderson looking. Unless you receive a directive from your girlfriend, change nothing. What other men think has no consequence.

August 20, 2012 at 8:02 a.m.
ldurham said...

As predicted, you dodged the question about TFP executive salaries. Subscription rates have shot up to $180 a year, a 15% increase recently. Electricity is a hell of a better bargain. Right2Know. You make me laugh.

August 20, 2012 at 8:34 a.m.
John_Proctor said...

"But, the truth is, I have a very smart and attractive girlfriend . . ."

How smart can she be if she is dating you?

August 20, 2012 at 11:01 a.m.
conservative said...

"The consumption-based taxes Tennessee applies to staple goods -- gas and groceries, in particular -- are outrageously regressive and unfair to lower income residents"

I hate the misuse of the term "regressive" simply because EVERY tax that the "poor" pay is a regressive tax. The "poor" use the heavily taxed alcohol and tobacco more than another any other class but I never see articles or comments on the regressive nature of these taxes or the unfairness thereof.

People, especially the "poor" demand and vote for more freebies from government and taxation is how government provides these freebies to the "poor."

As joneses well stated, America has the richest "poor" people in the world! Why is it that only income determines who is "poor?" If you were to add the cost of the freebies, tax credits and subsidies to the income of the "poor" they would exceed the income standard for who is "poor" in America.

Too many people keep a low income level just so they can qualify for all of the welfare, tax credits, food stamps, rent subsidies, phones etc. We are rewarding unproductive and lazy and plain old sorry people!

August 20, 2012 at 11:19 a.m.
timbo said...

Idurham....Dodged the question??? Private versus public.. again..private versus public... The fact you don't get that is strange.

Good job Drew

August 20, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.
timbo said...

happywithnewBRAINS....You give some of the most bizarre opinion.

First of all, I guess it is no big surprise that you don't care how over-paid public employees really are. The EPB wastes money hand over fist. They are the poster child of what is wrong with government.

Drew's column is such a refreshing breath of fresh air considering the lefty Austin's constant parroting of whatever the Democratic party sends him every morning. Austin is the most dishonest columnist I have ever read. Also, he replaces that no-talent, married the bosses daughter, butt kisser, Lee Anderson. He never met a local power structure person he didn't like. He supported almost as many local liberals as Austin.

It looks to me like your new BRAINS are just as defective as the old BRAINS. Get your money back.

August 20, 2012 at 11:34 a.m.
ORRMEANSLIGHT said...

Hey Drew~

Recently, during a personal interview at the TFP, I told You that You would be the recipient of many Journalistic Awards. I told You that the Times Free Press would be more celebrated because of this. I continue to believe this. Forward March...keep doing what You are doing!

August 20, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.
LibDem said...

My power bills for the last 12 months were 49.8% of my property tax. Given the relative benefit received, I'm pretty comfortable with this.

conservative, the idea that some people keep their income low to qualify for benefits is bizarre. These would be people who definitely need help and I doubt you would want them working for you. Paying them to stay home may be brilliant.

August 20, 2012 at 12:35 p.m.
rosebud said...

yeah, it would require courage for the TFP to reveal its executive six-figure salaries. Not gonna happen.

August 20, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

LIBDEM..... the idea that some people keep their income low to qualify for benefits is bizarre

The system is bizzare, and yes with all the treshholds and restrictions it is profitable to do nothing. If you make over a certain amount you loose benifits so why try when you can breed, say you don't know who the father is, get a sec 8 voucher , food stamps, WIC, and internet/cell phone all for having a baby. Now move in you male counter part and let him work while sending his mail to his momma's house and you end up with a pretty good gig. now have a 2nd child and get a 3 bedroom voucher more WIC and food stamps , just don't name the father or let anyone know he lives with you and you can eat ding dongs get obease and have free health care for life since getting fat/smoking isn't your fault either, just go to the ER and a taxpayer will pay that too. So please don't think it is bizzare that someone wouldn't work. How much of what I listed can you get with a 7$ an hr job?

August 20, 2012 at 1:55 p.m.
Easy123 said...

Conservative,

"Too many people keep a low income level just so they can qualify for all of the welfare, tax credits, food stamps, rent subsidies, phones etc. We are rewarding unproductive and lazy and plain old sorry people!"

That is a complete fabrication and falsehood. You are an ignorant fool, Conservative. None of those things serve as a "rewards". They are basic necessities.

You are morally bankrupt. If Jesus were real, he would be ashamed of you. It's sad that there isn't a Hell for you to go to.

August 20, 2012 at 2:29 p.m.
LibDem said...

Easy123, A woman who has babies to get food stamps and public housing sounds a bit like Ronald Reagan's welfare queen, an urban myth.

August 20, 2012 at 3:35 p.m.

Timbo, I care that people offer genuine reasons, not twisted misrepresentations. Or bare assertions which you expect to be taken on faith. Do you really think your unsubstantiated claim that government workers are overpaid is doing anything but showing how empty your arguments are? Why didn't you offer examples of waste?

And the editorial was even worse. It expected us to get upset that the average pay of the skilled and highly trained workers at the power company is higher than the average of all employees in the city. Why oh why would we do that? Unless somebody adopts some idea that all workers should be paid the same, a notion I find unlikely from this side of the paper, it really is preposterous.

So sorry, but Drew Johnson has only delivered transparent lies and deceptions. Much like the advertisements you see in the paper purporting to offer medical cures or thousands of television programs.

Instead of fresh air, it has the odor of flatulence.

August 20, 2012 at 3:37 p.m.

Nope, I expected a three-way split, and that's what it was. Keep telling us that Chuck Fleischmann won big. That's like selling a base hit as a grand slam.

The mere attempt speaks volumes.

August 20, 2012 at 4:03 p.m.
aae1049 said...

LeslieNOTSmart What's wrong? You can't let go of Vital sour grapes.

I am a huge fan of Chris Carroll, long before he was moved to cover political campaigns, he covered medical. He covered the Team Center closing, and waste at Erlanger. He is an extraordinary talent, more talented than his father ever was in my opinion.

He has a BS from ETSU and is highly motivated for 25 years old. If he were my son, I's be proud. I have spoken with him on several occasions, and he is very mature for his age. You are just wrong about Chris Carroll.

August 20, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.
Facts said...

Can't wait to see the Times/Left side of the paper to engage with readers. I also can't wait for these same critics to level the same insults. That's right; ain't happening.

August 20, 2012 at 6:49 p.m.
ldurham said...

The leslie "smart" post is freakin' hilarious! Vital sour grapes is right. Thank God for the reporter who exposed Vital's inability to tell the truth about whether he had a college diploma. I've met thousands of people, and Greg Vital is the only one who has ever had trouble answering that question honestly.

As for Fleischman winning big over two celebrities: how much more of an advantage can you have, than being an incumbent congressman? One on one, Chuck loses to anybody.

August 20, 2012 at 7:02 p.m.
hambone said...

This reminds me of the old saying "you pay for what you get".

One can only imagine what the EPB service would be like if this editor had his way!

August 20, 2012 at 8:46 p.m.

We could have the awesome service provided by Enron!

August 20, 2012 at 9:24 p.m.
Lr103 said...

hambone said:One can only imagine what the EPB service would be like if this editor had his way!

Remember all those California blackouts years ago? Well, I was living in Cali at the time. Most were caused by cheap, deregulated labor where work crews were cutting the wrong lines. Without the high quality expertise of EPB workers, with years and years of training, Chattanooga would become just a little Cali with constant blackouts. LOL!

August 20, 2012 at 10:26 p.m.

Oh, they weren't cutting the wrong lines. They were doing what they were told.

Maximizing profits by cutting cheaper in-state power production, so they could sell outside power at exhorbitant prices.

August 20, 2012 at 10:31 p.m.
ORRMEANSLIGHT said...

Even though the Times Free Press has an excellent President now, I think Chris Carroll could easily/naturally become President of the Newspaper. Hey, he could run it, believe me. I have never met a more honest, unbiased, genuine Journalist in all my experiences with many newspapers. And, he has a brilliant example he follows in David Carroll!

August 20, 2012 at 10:54 p.m.
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