Sunday, November 11, 2001



Posted By on Sun, Nov 11, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Christmas came early Saturday for ex-Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, who at a luncheon of supporters at Memphis’ downtown Rendezvous restaurant got the formal endorsement for his gubernatorial campaign of a fellow Democrat, 8th District congressman John Tanner of Union City. Meanwhile, across town and shortly thereafter, an equally early New Year’s resolution was voiced by Lt. Governor John Wilder of Somerville, who addressed the Dutch Treat Luncheon at the Audubon Cafe in East Memphis and promised afterward that he would do “everything in my power” in next year’s regular legislative session to bring about a constitutional convention on “equity in taxation.” Tanner’s endorsement was due, said the congressman, to his respect for Bredesen’s “public service record” coupled with his “private sector experience.” Talking earlier to reporters, Tanner acknowledged that a sitting public official’s endorsement of a candidate in a primary campaign, especially one this early, was unusual but said, “I knew I was going to do it sooner or later, so I just decided, ‘Why not go ahead and do it?’” (Bredesen was properly appreciative to Tanner for making the endorsement “at this point of my campaign.” Tanner’s action was almost certainly meant to be pre-emptive, of course, so as to encourage Democratic unity around Bredesen and to discourage the efforts of three other contenders: Knoxville District Attorney General Randy Nichols, former State Senator Andy Womack of Murfreesboro, and Charles Smith of Nashville, who served stints both as state Education Commissioner and as chancellor of the state Board of Regents. Smith was quickest with a retort, saying in a statement, “Phil Bredesen is still Phil Bredesen,” and going on to repeat his previous doubts that Bredesen, who as the Democratic nominee lost the 1994 governor’s race to Republican Don Sundquist, would be able to make favorable public impression on the state’s voters. Whoever emerges from next year’s Democratic primary will take on the winner in a Republican field that so far includes 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary and former State Senator Jim Henry of Kingston. Both Bredesen and Hilleary, the presumed GOP frontrunner, have rejected a state income tax as a reponse to the state’s fiscal problems, while their opponents have declined to close the door on such a solution. Wilder, who as the presiding officer of the Senate, has been a central figure in the legislature’s ongoing search for a solution to its revenue problems, told the Dutch Treat audience that he regarded a state income tax as “unconstitutional,” holding to a position he has taken throughout the current three-year-old tax-reform debate. The lieutenant governor, known for his occasional use of a kind of pidgin English (as in his frequent declaration that “the Senate is good”), chose on Saturday to strike an erudite note, speaking of “law in the cosmos” and pronouncing that “all wealth is production and all property is production less taxes.” Continuing to wax philosophical, Wilder told the overwhelmingly conservative audience, “All taxes are income taxes.The sales tax-- all consumption taxes-- are income taxes.” The most important principle, he said, was that a state tax should be made deductible from one’s federal taxes. For years Wilder has carried on a crusade to restore an element of deductibility to sales taxes, which were removed from deductible status by federal tax legislation in 1986. What is needed, he said, was “a constitutional convention on equity in taxation.” He later elaborated on that, saying that if an income tax could be made indisputably constitutional, he would support efforts to enact one in the legislature.

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