The Right response

The Right response

August 20th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

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spending increases in check as the economy rebounds, there's no reason why the sales tax on groceries can't be entirely repealed in just a couple of years.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.

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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.

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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.

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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