Tuesday, July 31, 2001

BREDESEN: 'MANAGE, DON'T TAX'

BREDESEN: 'MANAGE, DON'T TAX'

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2001 at 4:00 AM

The current governor of Tennessee, Republican Don Sundquist, couldn't have been pleased to hear an old nemesis, Democrat Phil Bredesen, preach the virtues of a no-new-taxes budget Monday night. Neither could members of the Tennessee legislature -- including many, perhaps most, of the ex-Nashville mayor's own partymates -- who will have to hunker down in the state Capitol next week, along with Sundquist, to try to find a way out of just such a budget. The one passed hurriedly on the night of July 12th, amid crowd disorders in and around the Capitol, is generally regarded as an abomination, both because it starves a number of state services -- notably higher education -- and because it uses up one-time money, like all $560 million of the state's tobacco-settlement allowance, to pay for recurring expenses. Even hold-the-line conservatives are scandalized by the latter fact, and when the General Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday to deal with the governor's veto, it is generally supposed that it will be hard to find enough votes (only a majority is needed) to override Sundquist's veto. The Senate especially is considered iffy. That didn't stop Bredesen from indulging himself in a nod of solidarity to Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Frayser, Raleigh), who was in the crowd on hand at a meet-and-greet for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate at the home of Dean and Lisa White on Overton Park Drive. In the course of his public remarks in the Whites' living room, Bredesen hailed Kyle specifically and other legislators generally (Rep. Carol Chumney, like Kyle a candidate for Shelby County mayor, was also in the crowd, but Bredesen may not have seen her) for doing what they could "without much leadership from the governor." (Ironically, the politically influential Clement family, of which Kyle's wife, Tennessee Regulatory Authority member Sara Kyle, is a member, is more or less publicly tilting toward Bredesen's chief Democratic opponent, former state party chief Doug Horne.) Most Tennessee politicians try to avoid discussing the fiscal problem. Not Bredesen. He didn't wait for a Q-and-A period but raised the issue himself at the very beginning of his remarks. "I'm going to disappoint some of you by saying that an income tax is not the answer," he said. "Management" was. Dependent on the sales tax for much of its revenue, the state would inevitably have both good times and bad times, more or less in rhythm with economic booms and slowdowns. In the latter case, "it's fair to ask the governor of our state to manage through the process" and "tighten up" where necessary. That specifically included TennCare, the state-run program for the uninsured and uninsurable which is the bane of conservatives and concering which Democrats usually comport themselves more gingerly. Bredesen not only pinpointed the program for a tightening-up, he boasted his background, as a self-made near-billionaire in the health-care business, as proof that he could do so. "Basically, what I did was take HMOs that were going under and put them back in shape," Bredesen told his audience. In a private interview before he made his public remarks, Bredesen had been even more explicit on the tax question. The budget passed on July 12th would "absolutely" serve the state through the next year, he said, and another no-new-taxes budget would do equally well for another year. Right up to the time he expects to be sworn in as governor himself, Bredesen acknowledged, smiling. The problem with Sundquist and his tax-reform efforts, Bredesen had said earlier, was the governor had been like a man who strapped himself into a fast-moving car and, heedless of reality, had headed straight toward a brick wall without slowing down or modifying course. Bredesen is moving pretty fast himself these days, and he will be much in evidence in Shelby County for months to come. He plans to touch base in Memphis "an average of two and a half times every two weeks" for the foreseeable future. For the time being he will focus on meet-and-greets like the one at the Whites, but Bredesen made it clear that later he will be calling on the attendees at such events for financial help. It is not that Bredesen can't run on his own fortune, as he virtually did in his 1994 run for governor. But one of the mistakes he thinks he made in that losing race, as the Democratic nominee against Sundquist, was not to involve as many other people in his campaign as he might have, and fund-raising was the key to that, Bredesen said. Aware that opponent Horne's game plan includes an appeal to the rural areas of Tennessee, where Bredesen -- Northern-born and, as he said, "a big-city mayor" -- might conceivably have weaknesses, the Nashvillian is targeting those same areas, where he will presumably point out, as he did at the Whites' Monday evening, that he was born in New York, yes, but the state, not the city. At a place called Shortville (pop., 1100), in fact, located "at mile-marker 340." And he will undoubtedly use the same line out on the hustings as he did Monday night. "I can't help where I was born, but I got here as fast as I could."

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