From an editorial in the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal:
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam delivered some good news last week with a bit of information about Nissan’s workforce. The only problem was that his statement was misleading and obviously designed to garner favor during a national economic development convention for governors in Nashville.
Early last Friday, the governor issued a statement from the convention that Nissan would be adding 810 jobs and running a third shift for the first time in the plant’s nearly 30-year history. That sounds great. The only problem is that these jobs were announced in mid-2011, and they’ve already been hired. They started running vehicles off the line Oct. 14 on the third shift, which was a historical moment of sorts at the Smyrna plant.
We appreciate Haslam’s efforts to spur manufacturing growth at Nissan. But to try to crank out some new numbers at a national governor’s conference when those employees are already working is misleading and disingenuous
In an editorial, the News Sentinel expresses disapproval of the Registry of Election Finance decision to take no action against Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett for violations of state law. The state Registry of Election Finance sent a message Tuesday to anyone running for office in Tennessee: “Don’t worry — your campaign finance records don’t have to be accurate.”
The regulatory board voted unanimously to drop its inquiry into Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s election finances, even though members acknowledged the campaign cannot account for $15,537.
The mayor blames his then-wife, who managed the account, for the discrepancy, alleging in a sworn statement that she took the money for personal use. His ex-wife, Allison Beaver, has said everything she did was with the knowledge and blessing of her husband.
State law, however, is crystal clear that the candidate ultimately is responsible for a campaign’s finances.
…The message seems to be that as long as a candidate files the proper paperwork, either on time or after some prodding, registry members will not be concerned about their accuracy. Hypothetically, a campaign worker can simply take from the till. Money then could be distributed as favors or even to buy votes. The family dog could eat the receipts. As long as there is deniability, the registry might just look the other way.
Conservative columnist Drew Johnson has been named as the opinion editor for the Free Press editorial page, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. He succeeds Lee Anderson, who retired in April as the Free Press editorial page editor after 70 years with the newspaper.
Johnson helped found and direct the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a government watchdog group in Nashville (Note: Since re-named Beacon Center). For the past two and a half years, he has been a senior fellow for the Taxpayer Protection Alliance in Nashville and Washington D.C. and a weekly columnist for Newsmax.
UPDATE: The Times-Free Press reports that, shortly after his hiring was announced, Johnson was “the victim of a mean-spirited Internet prank.” Someone took over a Twitter account in his name and started tweeting obscene stuff.
In a March 24 editorial, the Wall Street Journal declared Gov. Bill Haslam “the main obstacle to reform” of Tennessee’s inheritance tax. Now Haslam has replied with a letter to the editor of the publication that appears under the headline, “I’m Not the Problem on Death Tax Reform.” The governor has, of course, now embraced the idea of complete repeal of Tennessee’s inheritance tax.
Here’s an excerpt from the editorial: A November 2011 study of tax return data by economists Arthur Laffer and Wayne Winegarden shows how people avoid state death taxes. The study compared Florida and Tennessee high-income returns. Both states have no income tax, but Tennessee is one of only two states that imposes an estate and a gift tax. (Connecticut is the other.)
The authors point out that this year there is a $5 million exemption on the federal estate tax and gift tax (a once-in-a-lifetime wealth transfer for the living), but in Tennessee the exemption is a meager $13,000 for estates and gifts. With a gift and death-tax rate that reaches 9.5%, a Tennessean with a $5 million estate would pay $462,000 more estate tax than someone living in the 29 states with no such tax, such as Florida. Tennessee is a very expensive state to die in.
The Tennessee tax really does cause the rich to flee. The authors found that in 2010 Florida had nearly twice as many federal tax returns with taxable estates (per 100,000 population) as did Tennessee. The average estate is also larger in Florida–$7.4 million versus $4.4 million in Tennessee.
Here’s the kicker: Because wealthy people avoiding the estate tax take their businesses and spending with them, the study concludes that “had Tennessee eliminated its gift and estate tax 10 years ago, Tennessee’s economy would have been over 14% larger in 2010.” They also find the estate tax cost Tennessee state and local governments over $7 billion in tax collections. Could there be a more self-defeating tax?
The main obstacle to reform in Nashville is GOP Governor Bill Haslam, who earlier this year acknowledged damage from the tax, saying “There’s a whole lot of people who used to live in Tennessee who don’t anymore because it’s cheaper to die in Florida.” But he now says the state needs the revenues, however imaginary they might be. This mistaken logic is also being used to block repeal in Nebraska.
Here’s the Haslam letter: Regarding your editorial “Death Tax Defying” (March 24): In early January I proposed legislation to raise the exemption level on Tennessee’s estate tax from the current rate of $1 million to the federal exemption level of $5 million during my time in office. (Note: Actually, the bill did not originally raise the exemption level to $5 million, though the governor declared that as a goal.)
Just last week, I cemented that proposal by recommending doing so in the next three years and worked with House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent to completely repeal the tax in year four.
This is a thoughtful and realistic approach to eliminate a tax that chases capital out of our state as Tennessee slowly recovers from the economic downturn that we continue to carefully manage our way through.
Tennessee is a low-tax state, and I’m working with the General Assembly to lower taxes even further.
In a Sunday editorial, The Tennessean suggests that Gov. Bill Haslam is missing the point when it comes to open government issues. Both the editorial and a companion piece by Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause, review the governor’s record and politely suggest there are several shortcomings.
From the editorial:
In a phone conversation on Friday, Gov. Haslam was asked if he would rescind his January disclosure policy. He said he has no plans to do so, and then asked “What is the public good?” But the good that comes of knowing your public officials is vital, indeed. What citizen would not want to know the extent of an elected official’s business holdings, since those dealings often intersect with the work of government? How these officials have conducted their careers, whether in the public or private sector, obviously informs their decisions about who they will vote for. And businesses, nonprofits and other institutions who might in future deal with these officials likewise want to know whom they are dealing with.
It comes down to trust — a pact between public officials, voters and taxpayers that goes beyond the vote that put them in office.
Gov. Haslam could take a big step toward assuring Tennesseans of that trust by rescinding his January order, and along with his senior administration officials, disclose not only their sources of income, but also how much they make.
It does matter to Tennesseans, governor, whether you made $1 or millions of dollars. They not only have a need to know but a right to know.
Williams hopes that Haslam’s present attitude is the result of inexperience. These examples are not insignificant for the public to be aware of, but not necessarily the final word on the administration. We can hope that these are examples of a new administration coming from the private sector into the public sector with its responsibilities for openness.