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Views from elsewhere in Tennessee

Views from elsewhere in Tennessee

By: AP

The following is a roundup of recent editorials from Tennessee members of The Associated Press. In some cases, the editorials have been edited for length. They do not reflect an editorial position of the AP but represent the opinions of the newspapers from which they are taken.
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The (Clarksville) Leaf-Chronicle, Oct. 16
Under Tennessee law, it’s a misdemeanor to possess more than 20 packs — two cartons — of cigarettes that don’t have Tennessee tax stamps. Anyone bringing in more than 25 cartons can be charged with a felony.
This apparently wasn’t much of an issue until smokers started crossing the state line to buy cigarettes and dodge the sales tax, which had increased from 20 cents to 62 cents in July.
That’s when the state Depart-ment of Revenue said it intensified the enforcement along the border with 10 revenue officers involved in the program.
So, how has it been going? How many cartons have been seized? How many people have been arrested?
Those are all good questions, but the people of Tennessee are being kept in the dark on the answers.
The department has refused to grant an Associated Press information request on how widespread the enforcement has been. The justification was there were concerns about violating taxpayer confidentiality. A spokeswoman said the department would be more comfortable with releasing data in a few months.
The excuse that people’s personal information would be made public is unacceptable. Statistics unattached to identification could be released without compromising anyone’s right to privacy under the law. Of course, once someone has been charged with a crime, he usually doesn’t have much privacy left.
At any rate, when a government entity refuses to release information that the public has every right to see and evaluate, it looks as though it is trying to hide something, whether it really is or not.
Full disclosure is the best policy and one the citizens of this state expect from their government.
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The (Nashville) Tennessean, Oct. 13
Tennessee has grand reason to be proud of Al Gore, a Tennessean whose relentless efforts to raise awareness about the problem of global warming have led to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gore shares the prize with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Gore may be getting most of the attention, but the overwhelming presence of scientific expertise backing up his often-criticized warnings bolster the recognition of what Gore has accomplished. They deserve the award equally.
It was sadly regrettable, however, that no sooner had this year’s Peace Prize been announced than it was immediately analyzed for partisan political meaning. Gore graciously announced his appreciation for the honor, but some seemed to see the Nobel Peace Prize as nothing but a steppingstone to running for president of the United States. Gore has said he has no plans to run for president. It would be nice if he were allowed a moment to enjoy the global recognition of winning one of the most prestigious honors ever established.
What was even more disheartening was that tired political criticism, specifically on talk radio, used the announcement to once again denounce the validity of Gore’s research. It speaks volumes about our times that anyone would immediately criticize the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Gore has had plenty of political critics but, one by one, many of those critics have begun to come around, first to acknowledge that global warming exists, then to say the world needs to do something about it.
The United States, including the period when Gore was vice president, has not been the leader it should have been on acknowledging and battling global warming. If the Peace Prize does nothing more than boost that action, it will have served a noble purpose.
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Bristol Herald Courier, Oct. 12
Tennessee should end its heavy-handed effort to clamp down on cross-border tobacco purchases. It’s embarrassing to have state revenue agents staking out the parking lots of convenience stores and large discounters looking for Tennessee residents buying a few cartons of smokes. Seems like a waste of resources, too.
Similarly, the state has a right to crack down on those who cross the border with large quantities of untaxed liquor — enough to stock the local tavern, not a few bottles of wine or a couple of six packs of beer.
Odds are good that these folks are planning to resell the spirits, not just throw a party for their friends.
But, here again, the state is adopting a questionable zero-tolerance approach to cross-border alcohol purchases. State revenue agents have seized cartons of beer found during cigarette sting operations.
How long will it take before the state extends its surveillance program to those who purchase alcohol alone across the border?
Of course, this isn’t about crime; it’s about money. Tennessee wants to make certain it collects the maximum amount of sales tax from its residents — even if that means restricting their freedom to shop where they please.
Tennessee wouldn’t be in this pickle if it didn’t rely so heavily on the sales tax to fund the budget. Because state lawmakers remain averse to an income tax, they’ve been forced to jack up sales tax rates again and again. In the most recent legislative session, the tobacco tax was increased substantially to allow additional investment in the state’s underfunded public schools.
We urge Gov. Phil Bredesen to call off this broad-brush enforcement effort and target only those who are suspected of bringing cigarettes or liquor into the state to sell on the gray market. If the governor won’t stop the revenuers, then lawmakers should do so in their next session. Shopping across the state line should not be treated as a crime.
Published in The Messenger 10.19.07

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