Friday, July 5, 2002

THE SCOOP ON SPORTS

THE SCOOP ON SPORTS

Posted By on Fri, Jul 5, 2002 at 4:00 AM

On draft night 2002 the Memphis Grizzlies played let’s make a deal NBA-style. Memphis traded Nick Anderson and the draft rights to Matt Barnes (UCLA), a 2nd round 46th selection, to Cleveland and acquired Wesley Person, a 6’6” eight year veteran guard. Many NBA experts consider Person as one of the premiere three-point specialists in the league. During the 2001-2002 season with the Cavs, Person’s sharp shooting from behind the three-point arc ranked ninth in the NBA (143-322). Person joins the rebuilding Grizzlies after a career season with the Cavaliers. During the 2001-2002 campaign with Cleveland Person averaged 15.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 2.2 apg. Wesley Person was recently in the Bluff City for a press conference and sat down with the Flyer to discuss why he’s happy to be part of the new-look Memphis Grizzlies. Flyer: Tell me how you feel to be playing in Memphis close to your home state of Alabama where you were reared, and stared at Auburn University? Wesley Person: It makes me feel good because this is a situation I have been looking forward to for a long time. A place where people appreciate what I do and for my ability to shoot the basketball and spread the defense. And also playing at home with fans of the SEC. Flyer: What will you bring to this club? How will you bring your leadership style to the Grizzlies? Wesley Person: I try to lead by example, diving on the floor getting loose balls, coming to practice early and staying late because you have to show the younger guys that you have to put in extra work in order to stay in this league for a long time. And being vocal in the locker room by letting them know how to win, because I’ve been with a winning franchise (Phoenix Suns) and losing (Cleveland cavaliers), and I’ve been in the league a long time, and I’ve learned a lot from a lot of good leaders. I can bring some of that leadership that I got from other players in the league because I have listened, and now I can bring leadership to a young franchise. Flyer: What’s it like to be playing for the so-called ”new- look” Grizzlies? Wesley Person: The name might be Grizzlies, but it’s not what it used to be. You’re talking Jason Williams, Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, Brevin Knight, and a whole different look. That’s not the same Grizzlies that you used to see. I’m excited about how fans are excited. They brought Jerry West in who is well respected around the league and he’s going to do what ever it takes to win because he’s a winner. And, so it makes it exciting, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. Flyer: What do you tell fans about Wesley Person coming to Memphis to be a part of the Grizzlies’ new look and future? Wesley Person: I’m a guy that’s going to go out and play hard, and be a team player. A player that wants to go out and help a team win. I’m a guy that wants to win, I’m willing to win, and stay in the gym trying to get better and help my teammates get better. And I’m looking for that big prize to make the playoffs. Flyer: How important is it to have Chuck Person as your older brother, who is a former NBA all-star and SEC standout while attending Auburn University? Wesley Person: That’s important because it helps you, because he’s been where I'm trying to go. And, he can help you continue to get better, because he knows how to communicate with you. Last year it helped me because he was coaching in Cleveland and instead of a long distance phone call he was right there on the court. Also, just by having him as a brother who has been through it only helps. Flyer: How important is this trade for your family, wife, and kids being closer to your home state of Alabama? Wesley Person: We’ve been in Cleveland in the cold weather; now winter is not as cold. The kids get an opportunity to go outside and play and develop their skills, and that’s important to me. It’s important to me to make sure my family is happy. If they’re happy that brings a smile on my face. I can enjoy my job and go out and play to my ability. Flyer: What do you tell basketball fans in Memphis who have witnessed Memphis State success and the ABA in the 1970’s, and who are now excited about the Grizzlies in 2002-2003? Wesley Person: With a new franchise, big time players in here, and fans who love basketball, Memphis will be fun. When you know people are behind you and they want you to do well you want to go out there and play hard for them. I’ve heard a lot about the fans who get behind the team and that makes you get pumped up. Flyer: Dajuan Wagner (Memphis) is now with the Cleveland Cavalier;s what will it be like for him playing for your former team? Wesley Person: It’s an adjustment for all young players coming into the NBA out of college. He’s got the ability to create his own shot; so I think he will do just fine. Flyer: Do you have any other thoughts on being in Memphis? Wesley Person: I just look at this trade as a positive thing. I look at it as a situation where someone wants me for what I do and that’s what makes me feel good. I really appreciate the opportunity and Jerry West and the Grizzlies organization for giving me a chance to come in and be a part of the excitement. This is a growing process and I’m looking forward to the season.

TAX-REFORM LEADER SUSPENDS REELECTION EFFORT

TAX-REFORM LEADER SUSPENDS REELECTION EFFORT

Posted By on Fri, Jul 5, 2002 at 4:00 AM

As the Tennessee legislature adjourned this week , after passing a sales-tax extension of almost one billion dollars and forsaking a state income tax, the three leaders of the tax reform effort were all visibly chastened.

Governor Don Sundquist spoke glumly of having taken "my best shot" in acknowledging the failure of his tax-reform effort, and state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, though vowing to keep up the fight, acknowledged to reporters that it seemed further away than ever.

The third member of that leadership trio, state Sen. Robert Rochelle (D-Lebanon), may be the latest casualty of the tax-reform defeat and of the legislative tensions and disappointments that have characterized the last four years of the General Assembly in Nashville.

Not long after the legislature adjourned on the afternoon of July 4th, the eminent Democratic senator, who became the most forthright and determined legislative advocate of a state income tax, spoke with the Flyer about his forebodings concerning his reelection campaign, which matches him against Republican state representative Mae Beavers, a foe of the income tax (and most other varieties, as well). Rochelle, a Vietnam combat veteran, seemed depressed about the end of his immediate tax-reform hopes and talked of "rowdy" opposition to his election efforts. Not long afterward, he released this statement:

"With the close of the General Assembly, I am going to take a break, get some rest and think about what I want to do next. I am very disappointed that we were unable to stop a sales tax increase that unfairly burdens working families of Tennessee.

"All Tennesseans are going to feel the crush of this increased tax. As these working families learn to deal with the stress of having to make ends meet while others get away without paying their fair share, my family is learning to cope with the stress of having people threaten my wife and my children. As recently as this week, my wife received another violent, threatening phone call. It is hard to describe the emotions felt when your family is harassed.

"I have chosen to suspend my re-election campaign to reflect with family and friends. I would like to have this opportunity to think through whether or not I wish to continue my service in the Senate.

My concern is that the people's only choice will be a "do-nothing" legislator, a person who is championed by such a cruel supporter. All of these factors will weigh on my decision.

"I have informed the Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman of my actions. After talking with my family, I will decide whether to continue to pursue my service to the State of Tennessee. Until I announce my future intentions I'm asking people not to send contributions to my campaign."

Running On Fumes

Unable to agree on a plan, the General Assembly faced a total government shutdown.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 5, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Shelby Countians were prominent actors during the Tennessee legislature's end-of-fiscal-year countdown on the budget crisis -- some by commission, others by omission.

One of the latter was state Senator John Ford, the South Memphis Democrat whose legislative expertise is often spoken to in Nashville -- not least by himself -- but who was AWOL on Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year and the first day in which state services were curtailed for lack of a budget agreement. He was the only member of the Shelby County delegation and the only senator who wasn't on hand.

Ford's whereabouts were a mystery to his colleagues, one of whom was Sen. Jerry Cooper (D-McMinnville) -- author of several late-blooming efforts to break the budget impasse, including a new measure, involving increases in the sales tax, various licenses, and alcohol and tobacco levies, which was being deliberated on by the Senate Finance Committee Monday afternoon.

It would turn out that Ford had departed the previous afternoon, presumably for Memphis (for "a family emergency," supposed Senate Speaker John Wilder, who had reached Ford by cell phone the day before and summoned him back -- only temporarily, as it turned out -- for a key vote on a Senate appropriations bill).

Clearly nettled by the absence of Ford, a Finance Committee member, during Monday's deliberations, Cooper asked the panel's chairman, Sen. Doug Henry (D-Nashville), what he knew of the Memphis senator's whereabouts. "Senator Ford is MIA -- gone for good, I understand?" said Cooper, who went on to wonder out loud what steps could be taken to fetch Ford back. Like many of the patchwork bills being considered in the last several days, Cooper's was one which might rise or fall by a single vote.

Henry pondered briefly. "Well, Senator Ford ," he began absently, in his characteristic Cumberland Valley drawl. Guffaws began around the long conference table at the chairman's inadvertent use of the wrong name, and Cooper made a show of being startled.

"Sir," he said, with feigned deliberateness, "you are the epitome of asininity!" The arch, accented manner in which Cooper spoke was that of John Ford, as was the epithet itself, one which has frequently come to Ford's lips over the years during moments of confrontation on Capitol Hill.

Everybody laughed, including the aristocratic Henry, who smiled and went along with the joke. "All right, then, I'm the 'epitome of asininity.'" And seconds thereafter, with the committee's business concluded for the day, Henry was saying, "This committee is adjourned!"

A different sort of comic relief had been provided earlier during the same committee meeting by two other Memphians -- Senators Jim Kyle and Steve Cohen -- as the panel considered a proposal by Cohen to amend the bill by adding a 3 percent sales tax to gasoline and diesel fuel.

During a colloquy on the measure's intricacies, Kyle said it could be argued that the proposed new tax would compound the existing gasoline levy in such a way that, as Kyle said in a didactic tone that was ever so suggestive of Lt. Governor Wilder, "Why, we'd be taxing taxes!" This was an obvious parody of a favorite Wilder assertion about the nondeductibility of the state sales tax on federal income tax forms. "Uncle Sam taxes taxes!" Wilder says with some frequency, and it is one of the arguments he made again last week during a short-lived boom for his pet "6-0" tax proposal, one which would abolish the sales tax altogether and replace it with a 6 percent state income tax.

Cohen heard Kyle out, smiled in recognition of the parody, and responded simply, with the exaggerated, raspy sound of one hawking up fluids from the throat. This, too, was authentic Wilder. The committee was convulsed.

More was involved in some of these outbursts than merely breaking what was often a quite palpable tension. The invective hurled back and forth in the previous several days between leaders of the General Assembly's two chambers, with the governor's office occasionally getting involved, was unprecedented, and it necessarily undermined both the traditional politeness of parliamentary discourse and the assumed dignity of senior officials.

When House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) and House Finance Committee chairman Matt Kisber (D-Jackson) rejected the budget measure sent over by the Senate during the last several hours before the fiscal year ended Sunday, they had not been dainty about it. Nor did these veteran politicians bother to be politic.

The Senate bill, by Chattanooga-area Republican David Fowler, was but the latest in a series of Rube Goldberg-like concoctions, with a temporary sales-tax increase spliced onto a front-loaded referendum for a constitutional convention concerning the income tax, and it was regarded by Naifeh, who cited what he said were numerous procedural errors in it, as not just unacceptable but as "a piece of trash," as "gamesmanship" designed "to make us look bad."

In subsequent debate Kisber would call it "grandstanding the height of irresponsibility," and both men would denounce a statement by Wilder, who had said, "We are supposed to fund this budget before 12 o'clock midnight -- even if it's fouled up." (Wilder would defend himself by responding that, unlike the House leaders, he had "done a budget -- and it's balanced.")

Memphian Lois DeBerry, the House Speaker Pro Tem, would be even pithier about the Senate measure in an aside. Noting that both Ford and another Memphis Democrat, Sen. Roscoe Dixon, each of whom was normally in sync with her own preferences, had signed onto the Fowler bill, she exclaimed wearily on Sunday, "What are John and Roscoe doing putting in a 10-and-a-quarter-cent sales tax. Doing shit like that!?"

Ford would not stick around long enough to respond, but Dixon's answer to DeBerry's exasperated question was, "Movement. That's all. We're just trying to get some movement."

But, in fact, as the legislature continued into midweek, with members adding their own verbal fire to the seasonal heat and humidity, movement was hard to detect in the waste motion and circumlocutions going on in both chambers and in the committee rooms of Legislative Plaza.

Rep. John DeBerry (no relation to the Speaker Pro Tem), another Memphian, had spoken a passionate memorial a week earlier as legislators mourned the tragic death of Rep. Keith Westmoreland (R-Kingsport), who, facing charges of indecent exposure, had killed himself. On that occasion, DeBerry had raised to consciousness the idea, shared by many of his colleagues, that Westmoreland had caved in to pressures that had built up during four straight years of inability to find a solution to what Governor Don Sundquist, back in January 1999, had first described as a built-in "structural deficit" in the state's tax code.

On Monday, as 22,000 state employees stayed home, furloughed by an emergency "essential services" bill signed by Sundquist just before the fiscal-year-deadline at midnight Sunday, the legislators tried again. Not much got done, not even any new patchwork proposals, though several were rumored. The general atmosphere was laid back.

There was not much sign even of the anti-tax protesters who had honked and hollered and surrounded the Capitol whenever the specter of an income tax had been invoked over the four years of controversy and futility. Some of these had gone on a loud last ride of celebration around the Capitol after midnight Sunday but had not been heard from since.

Why should they, suggested DeBerry to his colleagues on Monday. Had they not achieved their end, in shutting down the government and cowing the General Assembly into permanent ineptitude? Drawing a picture of general suffering to be visited on students, on the elderly, and on all those others who would suffer from a complete government breakdown, DeBerry compared the tax protesters to elephant trainers, who had tamed the legislature by ritual terror over the years.

"Our chains are in our brains," he said, rocking back and forth in physical mimicry of a large, enfeebled, and immobilized animal.

On Tuesday, as both houses made tentative but unproductive efforts to find a solution, Deputy Governor Alex Fischer made a special visit to the House chamber to plead for action.

"We beg for your help to put an end to the madness," Fischer said. "We beg you to come together for a solution."

And later on Tuesday Sundquist himself held a press conference, offering the latest proposal for a solution. Like all the previous ones during these past several weeks, from whatever source, it was almost too complicated to grasp. It involved both a one-cent sales-tax increase and a one-cent income tax to begin immediately, followed by a constitutional convention call, followed by several other graded stages. It might add up to enough -- $1 billion -- to fund the long-looming budget deficit for the coming year.

But, like all the other plans, its sales-tax provision would be a red flag to the House, its income tax would similarly gall the Senate, and, at first blush, it seemed to have no special magic to dissolve the agitation and the impasse.

Sundquist continued to believe that tax reform was possible, though, and concluded by saying, "Common ground is the engine of democracy, and compromise is its fuel. My friends, if ever there were a time for compromise, it is now."

And he set a new deadline for an agreement: Wednesday night. Two days later, the "essential services" provisions would expire, and the state government, with all its services, might be shut down for good.


What may turn out in retrospect to be the semi-official launching of Al Gore's newest campaign for the presidency took place in Memphis last weekend. Meeting at The Peabody with a host of his former financial backers and addressing a crowd of enthusiastic Shelby County Democrats at their Jackson Day dinner, Gore tore into the Bush administration on both the domestic and international fronts. Here he hoists hands with Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. and the Democrats' consensus U.S. Senate nominee, Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville.

DONE DEAL: $933 MILLION SALES-TAX BILL

DONE DEAL: $933 MILLION SALES-TAX BILL

Posted By on Fri, Jul 5, 2002 at 4:00 AM

In the end the state House of Representatives, a body whose leadership had proclaimed consistently it would never approve a sales tax increase, did exactly that -- on instructions of the leadership, including Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who cast the deciding vote Wednesday in a 50-41 outcome, with eight abstentions. The Senate had earlier approved the measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Cooper (D-McMinnville) and Rep. Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta), by a vote of 22-11. Waiting in the wings was a differetly configured measure by Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Duickson) and Rep. Frank Buck (D-Dowellton), the so-called "CATS" bill (for Continuing Adequate Taxes and Services) that would have raised somewhat less revenue than did the Cooper bill.

The end result was actually more fore-ordained than the final tally indicated. Several allies of the Speaker or of Governor Don Sundquist had indicated they were available for Yes notes if needed. Both Naifeh and the governor had said earlier Wednesday that they had decided to accept the Cooper bill, which included a variety of add-on taxes in addition to its core provision of a 1-percent sales tax, as the basis for a compromise budget settlement. Each man had staked much on a call for “tax reform,” which in practice meant a state income tax, and the decision to give up was based on their belief that, as Sundquist put it during a noontime visit to Legislative Plaza, that a complete shutdown of state government on Friday could not “be tolerated.” Since Sunday night state government had been put on part rations under the terms of an “essential services” measure, but 22,000 employees, almost half the entire state workforce, had been furloughed.

Appropriations measures and various other housekeeping duties remained to done on Thursday before the legislature’s third straight July adjournment, but in essence a four-year stalemate was over. In giving up his “last shot” at tax reform because “you have to deal with reality,” Sundquist, who had done what he called “missionary work” for the last 3 years, cautioned that his successor would have to deal with a structural tax deficit. The bill enacted Wednesday will provide some $933 million in new state revenue, enough to cover the existing shortfall and provide state employees and teachers a modest pay raise of 3 per cent and 2 percent, respectively.

Rep. Mike Kernell (D-Memphis), an income-tax advocate and one of the 41 House holdouts Wednesday, pointed out in final debate on the Cooper bill that it constituted a 17 percent increase in the sales tax. He echoes an equally defiant Sen. Roy Herron (D-Dresden) who had made a passionate attack on the bill previously, concluding “It is always the right time to do right; there is never a right time to do wrong.” But Sen. Roscoe Dixon (D-Memphis) noted, “I hate the sales tax. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do" -- a refrain which was echoed by Sen. Steve Cohen, another Memphis Democrat, who reluctantly announced he was moving from a position of abstention to vote for the bill.

Cohen and other income-tax supporters noted that, as Naifeh and Sundquist had reluctantly concluded, the votes for such a measure, however configured, just weren’t there.

Critics declared that the bill will push the state's sales tax rates, when combined with those of local governments, to one of the highest levels in the nation. People with low income levels are hit the hardest by the levy, they said, and the higher rate will send more Tennesseans across state borders or to the Internet for shopping.

Even some of those who ended up voting for the bill -- like Rep. Tre Hargett (R-Bartlett) -- denounced it for its severity. Rep. Ken Givens D-Rogersville) echoed Kernell’s sentiments about the 17-percent increase, which makes the bill the largest tax increase measure in Tennessee history.

The present state sales tax rate is 6 percent and the bill will raise that to 7 percent - except on grocery food. On food items, the rate will remain at 6 percent. Local governments can add up to 2.75 percent in sales tax, putting the combined maximum level at 8.75 per cent now and 9.75 percent under the bill.

The sales tax increase, which takes effect July 15, would produce an estimated $600 million. About $200 million of the remaining new revenue would come increased taxes on business. These include an increase in the excise tax rate from 6 percent to 6.5 percent, a 50 percent increase in local business taxes with the state keeping the money and a "decoupling" of state business taxes from federal business taxes. The latter move avoids a loss of about $50 million that would occur if state law continues to track federal law, particularly on rules dealing with depreciation.

The bill also doubles the "professional privileges tax" levied on some licensed professionals from $200 to $400 per year, boosts cigarette taxes by seven cents per pack, increases taxes on alcohol by 10 percent and levies new taxes on coin-operated amusement devices and vending machines.

There is also an increase in the "single item cap" for sales taxes. Currently, the full state sales tax rate applies to the entire amount of a major purchase but the local sales tax rate of up to 2.75 percent applies only to the first $1,600. The bill raises the cap to $3,200 with the state keeping the revenue from the increase

Various amendments were offered in both the House and Senate, receiving in some cases a pro forma debate,but none succeeded.

Thursday, July 4, 2002

SUNDQUIST, NAIFEH SETTLE FOR MAKESHIFT PLAN

SUNDQUIST, NAIFEH SETTLE FOR MAKESHIFT PLAN

Posted By on Thu, Jul 4, 2002 at 4:00 AM

"You have to deal with reality," a glum governor tells the press Wednesday.

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee state government got -- if not a full reprieve -- a stay of execution Wednesday, as Governor Don Sundquist and legislative leaders reached a compromise on the “concept” of a patchwork budget bill based on one introduced by Sen. Jerry Cooper (D-McMinnville).

The governor announced the agreement during a visit to Legislative Plaza just before noon -- as the House Finance Committee met in a committee room nearby to consider details. His mood was one of resignation. “It’s not a long-term solution,” he told reporters. “Those who follow us are going to find out it’s a problem they’re going to be facing next year. I would hope the momentum for tax reform would go forward.” Wanly, he described the outcome -- which still must be debated and voted on by the House and Senate on Wednesday -- as “my last shot.”

He said, “You have to deal with reality. And that is, we’re facing a shutdown. Friday night, at midnight, we came close. Two nights ago. We can’t tolerate that.”

The decision by Sundquist to decision to give up and forgo his plans for tax reform based on this or that variant of a state income tax obviously came hard for him. “We’ve been trying for 3 years to do something about this,” he said. His glum looks brightened only a little when Cooper, author of the plan which is potentially the most lucrative of the handful of patchwork plans still being considered, happened by.

“Governor,” the senator said cheerily and flashed Sundquist a thumbs-up signal. Sundquist brightened up a little more in subsequent brief hallway conversations with John Ford and Steve Cohen, two Democratic senators from Memphis who have been dependable allies during Sundquist’s long -- and ultimately unavailing -- effort to revamp the state’s tax structure.

House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, in a speech from the House podium, joined Sundquist in retreating from the income-tax fight: ``In this state right now," the Speaker said, "the income tax/tax reform bill does not have the votes. We cannot pass it.... We've got to pass a revenue measure. We've got to help those people who cannot help themselves.... It's really time for us to move on.... We need to get that common bond back together.... No more this side and that side. No more being held to vote for this thing or that thing. I've made that clear (to income tax supporters).''

Like Naifeh and the governor, other supporters of tax reform were seemingly resigned to the inevitable -- but plainly not pleased. “There are a lot of different taxes on everybody,” sighed Linda McCarty, director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, who saw her constituency bare holding its own in the plan. “My horrendously overworked work force that is miserably underpaid will be asked to go home and celebrate that they’re able to watch a parade.” She would have preferred that efforts to get a better agreement continue through Independence Day celebrations on Thursday and the subsequent weekend. “They couldn’t do a finer celebration of the 4th of July than to stay here working day and night until they got a solution.”

On the other hand, State Senator Marsha Blackburn, the Williamson County Republican now seeking the 7th District congressional seat, found the Cooper plan too generous. She said she and a small group of fellow legislators had not given up on the idea of a no-new-taxes budget -- one, moreover, which would not require the suspension of state-shared payments to local governments and the downsizing of education which were components of the so-called ÔDOGs’ no-new-taxes budget worked on by various legislative leaders.

Blackburn said she was still being deluged by communications from Tennesseans who wanted to hold the tax line. “The cutest thing!” she said of one caller, who told her, “Marsha, I’m taxed out,” and, she related, went on to advise, “Shut her down and come on home” -- the exhortation seeming to apply to the current extended legislative session, not to state government itself, though Blackburn did not specify.

Though it will no doubt be modified by the two legislative chambers, perhaps significantly, the Cooper plan (whose “concept” Sundquist accepted as a basis for agreement) provides for:

  • an increase in the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, with grocery food purchases exempted from the additional one-percent.

  • A 10 percent increase in taxes on alcohol and tobacco products.

  • Extension of the sales tax to coin-operated machines.

  • “Decoupling” from various federal tax breaks given to business.

  • A $10 increase in motor vehicle registration fees and commercial vehicle fees.

  • Increasing the “professional privilege” tax from $200 annually to $300.

  • Raising the “single article” cap on the sales tax so that certain revenues now going to local governments would be retouted to the state.

    Adherents of another plan, the so-called "CATS" Budget, which would generate less revenue than Cooper's plan with a differently shaped tax bundle, indicated they might contest the final outcome in sessions Wednesday night.

    Wednesday, July 3, 2002

    SUNDQUIST, NAIFEH SETTLE FOR MAKESHIFT PLAN

    SUNDQUIST, NAIFEH SETTLE FOR MAKESHIFT PLAN

    Posted By on Wed, Jul 3, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    "You have to deal with reality," a glum governor tells the press Wednesday.

    NASHVILLE -- Tennessee state government got -- if not a full reprieve -- a stay of execution Wednesday, as Governor Don Sundquist and legislative leaders reached a compromise on the “concept” of a patchwork budget bill based on one introduced by Sen. Jerry Cooper (D-McMinnville).

    The governor announced the agreement during a visit to Legislative Plaza just before noon -- as the House Finance Committee met in a committee room nearby to consider details. His mood was one of resignation. “It’s not a long-term solution,” he told reporters. “Those who follow us are going to find out it’s a problem they’re going to be facing next year. I would hope the momentum for tax reform would go forward.” Wanly, he described the outcome -- which still must be debated and voted on by the House and Senate on Wednesday -- as “my last shot.”

    He said, “You have to deal with reality. And that is, we’re facing a shutdown. Friday night, at midnight, we came close. Two nights ago. We can’t tolerate that.”

    The decision by Sundquist to decision to give up and forgo his plans for tax reform based on this or that variant of a state income tax obviously came hard for him. “We’ve been trying for 3 years to do something about this,” he said. His glum looks brightened only a little when Cooper, author of the plan which is potentially the most lucrative of the handful of patchwork plans still being considered, happened by.

    “Governor,” the senator said cheerily and flashed Sundquist a thumbs-up signal. Sundquist brightened up a little more in subsequent brief hallway conversations with John Ford and Steve Cohen, two Democratic senators from Memphis who have been dependable allies during Sundquist’s long -- and ultimately unavailing -- effort to revamp the state’s tax structure.

    House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, in a speech from the House podium, joined Sundquist in retreating from the income-tax fight: ``In this state right now," the Speaker said, "the income tax/tax reform bill does not have the votes. We cannot pass it.... We've got to pass a revenue measure. We've got to help those people who cannot help themselves.... It's really time for us to move on.... We need to get that common bond back together.... No more this side and that side. No more being held to vote for this thing or that thing. I've made that clear (to income tax supporters).''

    Like Naifeh and the governor, other supporters of tax reform were seemingly resigned to the inevitable -- but plainly not pleased. “There are a lot of different taxes on everybody,” sighed Linda McCarty, director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, who saw her constituency bare holding its own in the plan. “My horrendously overworked work force that is miserably underpaid will be asked to go home and celebrate that they’re able to watch a parade.” She would have preferred that efforts to get a better agreement continue through Independence Day celebrations on Thursday and the subsequent weekend. “They couldn’t do a finer celebration of the 4th of July than to stay here working day and night until they got a solution.”

    On the other hand, State Senator Marsha Blackburn, the Williamson County Republican now seeking the 7th District congressional seat, found the Cooper plan too generous. She said she and a small group of fellow legislators had not given up on the idea of a no-new-taxes budget -- one, moreover, which would not require the suspension of state-shared payments to local governments and the downsizing of education which were components of the so-called ‘DOGs’ no-new-taxes budget worked on by various legislative leaders.

    Blackburn said she was still being deluged by communications from Tennesseans who wanted to hold the tax line. “The cutest thing!” she said of one caller, who told her, “Marsha, I’m taxed out,” and, she related, went on to advise, “Shut her down and come on home” -- the exhortation seeming to apply to the current extended legislative session, not to state government itself, though Blackburn did not specify.

    Though it will no doubt be modified by the two legislative chambers, perhaps significantly, the Cooper plan (whose “concept” Sundquist accepted as a basis for agreement) provides for:

  • an increase in the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, with grocery food purchases exempted from the additional one-percent.

  • A 10 percent increase in taxes on alcohol and tobacco products.

  • Extension of the sales tax to coin-operated machines.

  • “Decoupling” from various federal tax breaks given to business.

  • A $10 increase in motor vehicle registration fees and commercial vehicle fees.

  • Increasing the “professional privilege” tax from $200 annually to $300.

  • Raising the “single article” cap on the sales tax so that certain revenues now going to local governments would be retouted to the state.

    Adherents of another plan, the so-called "CATS" Budget, which would generate less revenue than Cooper's plan with a differently shaped tax bundle, indicated they might contest the final outcome in sessions Wednesday night.

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      • AFSCME Local 1733 Board Agrees: No Endorsements in the 9th

        Agreement comes after Thursday night meeting at union headquarters; signs like the one shown here will disappear, and legal action may be directed at unauthorized billboard on Covington Pike.
      • AFSCME Endorsement Question Remains Open

        Congressional candidates Cohen and Wilkins make rival claims of support by government workers’ local; vote of Local 1733 still scheduled for Thursday.
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