Don't look now, but it seems as though the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee will actually summon up enough courage to consider a state income tax on its merits and may even pass it.
At press time, anyhow, the auguries are good for a special legislative session next week -- the third of the last two years. The previous ones, called by a dogged Governor Don Sundquist, were exercises in cowardice and futility -- ending without anything close to an agreement on a revenue means whereby a state going bankrupt could escape red ink and somehow manage to pay for its essential services.
In the abortive special sessions as well as in the last two regular ones, the final obstacle to genuine tax reform was in the state Senate, not the House of Representatives, whose leader, Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, long ago signaled that the votes in his chamber were at hand, for whatever it took. And recently Naifeh gave his endorsement to a specific tax proposal.
This would be a 3.5 percent flat tax, subject to deduction from the taxpayers' federal returns and coupled with reductions in the state's prevailing sales tax, which is, by common consent, much too high already. The tax would be instituted on July 1st, with a proviso -- yet to be worked out -- that it be subject to an up or down vote by the people in the first, experimental year of its operation. Altogether farsighted, sensible, and democratic.
The good news is that the Senate leadership is in on the game this time, unlike the case as recently as July, when senators allowed themselves to be cowed by an unruly mob of tax protesters and backed away from an emerging compromise measure much like the one being considered now.
All this comes at a time when the state's fiscal situation, already difficult enough, has become truly perilous, with estimates of next year's projected revenue shortfall -- made worse by fallout from the recent national catastrophe -- ranging as high as $1 billion. It passed all understanding when the legislature chose to adjourn each of the last two years without putting the state's books in order. As a result we have seen Draconian cuts across the board in education, mental health, parks and recreation, to name a but a few areas of service.
It would be the height of folly to continue in that mode. We welcome the indications that the state's legislators this time may choose to forgo wearing the fool's cap in the people's name.
There was both bad news and good news in District Attorney General Bill Gibbons' decision not to run for county mayor. The bad news was that we were deprived of what would have been yet another quality candidate in a race that is shaping up as involving several. The good news was Gibbons' refreshing indifference to running for the sake of running as well as his demonstrated loyalty to the tasks already assigned him by popular vote. All indications are that former city councilman John Bobango, a conscientious public servant, will carry the Republican mantle cast aside by Gibbons. He will join four well-qualified Democrats already in the race -- banker Harold Byrd, Public Defender A C Wharton, and two able legislators, Senator Jim Kyle and Representative Carol Chumney. We have every reason to expect that issues of consequence will be ably debated by these able individuals.