Drew's views

Drew's views

November 30th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

HEADLINE: Kevin Brooks eyes 2014 GOP primary bid against Scott DesJarlais

THE RECAP: State House Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said Tuesday he is eyeing a possible bid against embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the 2014 GOP primary.

DREW'S VIEW: Join the club, Rep. Brooks. The list of would-be challengers to the mistress-having, abortion-coercing, drug-using, patient-cavorting Dr. DesJarlais is growing faster than my waistline after devouring my dad's deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey.

Those reportedly considering a run for the 4th District Congressional seat include: Former 3rd Congressional District candidate Weston Wamp, State Rep. Joe Carr (R-Murfreesboro), retired Cracker Barrel executive Forrest Shoaf, State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), Rutherford County pharmacy company executive Shane Reeves and a partridge in a pear tree.

Anyone with any values, morals or common sense wants to see DesJarlais out of Congress and replaced with someone who isn't a hypocrite and a fraud about the issues he or she claims to care about most. As a result, if one quality candidate runs against DesJarlais in the 2014 Republican, DesJarlais stands almost no chance.

On the other hand, if more than one legitimate challenger enters the race to run against DesJarlais for the Republican nomination in 2014, they would likely split the anti-DesJarlais vote and allow DesJarlais to return to Congress.

Fortunately, there are two simple solutions to this problem. Unfortunately, both require the state Republican Party to grow a backbone and take the lead -- something they've been unwilling to do when it comes to DesJarlais. After all, a strong state party that was committed its principles and cared about protecting other GOP officials would have demanded DesJarlais' resignation weeks ago. Instead, the Tennessee Republican Party has tried to toe the line between feigning outrage at DesJarlais' past misdeeds and working to keep him in office. As a result, the state party has come across as dithering and cowardly.

The Tennessee Republican Party's first option is to disqualify DesJarlais from running as a Republican and force him to run as an independent in 2014. That would allow a large field of candidates to battle for the GOP nomination in the primary and have an easy shot at victory in the general election against an independent DesJarlais and a token Democratic opponent.

Second, the GOP can hold a closed door meeting between the possible candidates, county party leaders and other 4th District Republican power players and agree upon the best candidate to run against DesJarlais in the primary and prevent anyone else from running as a Republican candidate.

Both ways benefit the Tennessee Republican Party by allowing them to look responsive and decisive, while ensuring that DesJarlais is out of office and replaced with a quality Republican to represent the 4th District in Congress.

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HEADLINE: Airport takes off with two expansions

THE RECAP: The Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority recently broke ground on a new building on the west side of the airport's campus that will include a 20,000-square-foot hangar and 13,200-square-foot office. In addition to the expansions, the Airport Authority has also begun the process of installing a second solar farm to the airport campus's west side.

DREW'S VIEW: Sounds great, right? But there's a catch. These projects aren't being built with revenue generated by the airport, they're being funded by tax dollars.

The goofy solar farm cost taxpayer $3 million. The hangar and office building is part of a larger $10-plus million taxpayer-funded project that allowed the government to get into the private plane service and storage business -- and compete against a private company, TAC Air, that has served the Chattanooga airport for years.

The Airport Authority gave an outfit called Wilson Air a no-risk contract to run the government-owned, taxpayer-funded private plane service and storage facility. Wilson Air gets $200,000 per year, whether the facility turns a profit or not. If Wilson Air operates in the red, taxpayers have to bail out this boondoggle. The Airport Authority estimates that, by the end of the year, taxpayers will have paid more than $1.1 million to subsidize the facility. If Wilson Air does earn a profit, they get to keep as much as 10 percent of everything they make.

To make matters worse, the Airport Authority justified the service center by claiming that the number of Volkswagen officials flying by private plane into Lovell Field would increase the need for new private plane facilities. It turns out that VW officials more commonly fly into Atlanta and are then shuttled to Chattanooga using an upscale car service. Oops.

HEADLINE: Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey targets cuts in Hall income tax

THE RECAP: Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, says his focus in January will be on cutting the state's Hall income tax on investments and not reducing sales taxes on food beyond an earlier agreement. The agreement would cut taxes on groceries from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in the budget that takes effect next July.

The Hall tax levies 6 percent rate on interest from bonds, notes and stock dividends.

DREW'S VIEW: Ramsey and the rest of the leadership in the Tennessee General Assembly need to recognize that both taxes -- the Hall tax and the sales tax on groceries -- are unpopular, unfair and, most importantly, unneeded.

The Hall income tax acts as a state capital gains tax, raiding the interest and dividends Tennesseans collect from stocks and bonds. Since other income tax-free states, such as Texas and Florida, don't have such an outrageously arbitrary and punitive tax on retirees and the wealthy, the Hall tax creates incentives for the rich and the retired to leave Tennessee for greener pastures. Rather than pushing those people away, the state should work to keep Tennesseans who earn interest and dividends here, since those are the people who contribute the most to our state in terms of job creation and tax revenues.

Tennessee's grocery tax is the most regressive and least fair tax imposed by the state. Since all people have to eat, Tennesseans with low or fixed incomes are forced to spend a higher portion of their income on food than wealthier Volunteer State residents. Most other states understand the unjust nature of the grocery tax. Only seven states in America impose a sales tax on groceries and Tennessee's is, by far, the highest -- more than doubling the tax rate of the next closest state.

The Hall income tax is expected to snatch $215 million from Tennesseans this year. The state's grocery tax is responsible for picking about $460 million from taxpayers' pockets annually. That means the two taxes generate $675 million -- or a measly 2.2 percent -- of the state's $31 billion budget.

Rather than dancing around the issue by making small reductions to grocery tax rates, or placing minimum income limits on the Hall income tax, state lawmakers should put on their big boy britches and eliminate both taxes.

Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Governor Bill Haslam can show Tennesseans that they are committed to making our state a welcoming place for the wealthy and the retired, and a fair place for even the poorest among us by simply limiting the growth of state spending

Getting rid of the Hall tax and the grocery tax won't require cutting programs or firing state employees. It simply requires the state to spend less than in brings in for a year or two. Surely our elected officials in Nashville can show the common sense and restraint necessary to do that. If they do, the people responsible will be considered heroes to taxpayers for years to come.

"Drew's views" is a weekly roundup of Free Press opinions about topics that appeared in the Times Free Press over the past week. Follow Drew on Twitter: @Drews_Views.