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Keep an Eye on Tennessee's War on Tax and Spend Liberalism

June 15, 2002

There is a revolution brewing in Tennessee. Tennessee has a budget problem; like many other states, but much less than those states. Tax-and-spend liberals, who dominate the state Assembly and Senate and are mostly long time incumbents, are working furiously to install an income tax and to raise the sales tax - simultaneously. Unbelievably, they are selling the idea that Tennessee can tax its way to state fiscal success without beating down the state economy. If they would show me one government that has ever done that successfully, I would consider supporting them. But they cannot. So I do not.

The problem in Tennessee is that revenues have grown slightly higher (this year's revenues will be greater than revenues from 2 years ago and, in this recession year, will be close to revenues received LAST year) but spending has grown two to three times faster.

One reason is that about eight years ago, the incumbent Democratic liberals installed the only HillaryCare (aka TennCare) medical welfare system (for the "uninsurable") in the country. One fourth (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) of all Tennesseans are now enrolled in TennCare. This is double the percentage covered by Medicaid in the average state. No rational person believes that one fourth of ALL Tennesseans are uninsurable. It has become a scam. The largest commercial provider of health insurance, Tennessee Blue Cross Blue Shield says government health insurance (aka TennCare) is its biggest competitor. Now - Surprise! - TennCare is bankrupting the state.

When you and I and businesses are faced with a slow down in revenues, then spending has to be frozen or cut. The Tennessee legislature majority leaders will do neither. They only use the emotional solutions: close state parks, cut secondary and elementary school funding, cut state college funding, etc. The fact is that the deficit is due largely to increased spending. Stick with last year's spending and the deficit would disappear.

OK, I have made the traditional rational reasons for why the tax and spend liberals are wrong. They, in turn, are making the traditional emotional reasons for why they need to reach into our pockets.

So how do conservatives get emotional? Well, Nashville conservative radio talk show hosts, Steve Gill and Phil Valentine, are using a great American tradition - the public protest. Every time the legislature meets to attempt a floor vote for the income tax and increased sales tax, these two guys set up their radio shows on the sidewalks outside the capitol. They then invite those Tennesseans opposed to the liberal tax solutions to meet with them on the sidewalk or drive by and honk their horns. Though this sounds elementary, it has been very effective. The turn out is amazing. The resulting honking and crowd noise clearly seeps into the legislative chambers.

So far, the legislative leaders cannot find enough votes to move the tax legislation. If this does not inspire you, pick up a book on the Revolutionary War. This is exactly what those folks did.

A longer term solution is also found in our Founding Fathers actions: elect people that will stop this nonsense in the future. That is where I am putting my energies. I recently volunteered to be the campaign manager for a local GOP candidate for the state Assembly - Judd Matheny. Judd is a veteran of the volunteer Army, a successful small business owner, and a successful husband and father. He is one of the sharpest conservative candidates I have ever met. He faces an uphill battle against a liberal, good ol' boy Democratic with nearly $90,000 of lobbyist money in his campaign account. I will report our progress over the next several months.


Sam T. Harper graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University.  Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He was a contributor to “In Search of Excellence,” the best selling business book of all time.  Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy.  Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco.  Sam is currently the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC – a management consulting, training, and coaching firm.