Bredesen: OK cable tax or find alternative
Posted: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 9:08 pm
By ERIK SCHELZIG
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Phil Bredesen on Tuesday challenged lawmakers to approve his plan to eliminate a tax exemption on cable bills or else find another way to restore funding for higher education and save 200 state employees’ jobs.
The proposal to lift the tax break on the first $15 of a cable bill is part of the Democratic governor’s plan to raise about $49 million in new revenue a year. But Republicans were quick to announce they wouldn’t go along with it.
Bredesen suggested in an interview with The Associated Press that opponents were too quick to oppose the measure.
“I say to someone who would say that, ‘Fine, what are you going to do to get $49 million?”’ Bredesen said.
House Republican Lead-er Jason Mumpower of Bristol said he believes lawmakers “will find a way to make reductions somewhere” else.
“It doesn’t have to come at the expense of the jobs he’s talking about,” Mumpower said. “Thank you for the challenge, but the last thing the people of Tennessee need right now is higher taxes.”
The governor said his proposal is an effort to make severe budget cuts less painful. He said he’s willing to be flexible.
“If somebody wants to put a little more pain here and a little less here, that’s fine with me,” he said. “But you’ve got to move beyond saying, ‘I don’t like this,’ and into, ‘I don’t like this, and here’s how we plan to fix it.”’
Prosecutors, public de-fenders, foresters and probation and parole officers could lose their jobs if state leaders can’t come up with more revenue. About $32 million of the proposed new revenue would go toward higher education, and the rest would be used to preserve the jobs.
The state has been hit with what the governor has described as a “very reasonable lawsuit” from the satellite TV industry because it doesn’t get the kind of tax break that cable does. Bredesen estimates that the average cable bill would increase just over $1 per month if the tax measure goes into effect — or if the courts eventually intervene.
“It’s hard for me to imagine how anybody is going to wring their hands too much over an increase of that level in a very tough year like this when we’re really working to preserve some services,” he said.
Bredesen also rejected arguments that lawmakers can’t afford the political price of approving any tax increase in an election year.
“Anybody out there that
feels they’re going to lose their election because of evening-up the tax on cable boxes with the tax on other video services, then perhaps you should think twice about why you’re in this business,” he said.
Also Tuesday, forestry officials warned that eliminating jobs could seriously hamper Tennessee’s ability to protect the forests that cover half the state.
“It takes people to do the job — you can’t do it with your cell phone,” Bill Williams, chairman of the Tennessee Fores-try Commission, told the Senate Environment Committee.
Twenty-three of the jobs cuts would hit foresters who work with private landowners, said John Ross, the vice chairman of the Forestry Commission.
“I’m quite alarmed from a landowner standpoint,” Ross said. “These are the people in the field who give advice to landowners, who check on logging operations, who get reports for water quality violations.”
About 20,300 square miles of forest land is privately owned in Tennessee, Ross said.
“These people are the eyes of this state and the public to see that environmental protection is carried on, and that the forest is being taken care of,” he said.
Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Senate Environment Committee on Tuesday unanimously advanced a five-year renewal of a $5.4-million-per-year tax on beer and other bottled drinks that helps pay for litter cleanup.