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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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As I See It

Talk of state sales tax hike may miss the mark badly

October 3rd, 2011 8:50 am by Robert Houk

There are a few proverbs that have stood the test of time:
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
“Blood is thicker than water.”
Others, not so well:
“Clogs to clogs in three generations.”
“Did hogs feed here or did Lithuanians have a feast here?”
“Do not talk Arabic in the house of a Moor.”
Then there are a few political proverbs that are often quoted, but not quite proven.
One of my favorites is, “Government has never created a single job.” Another is: “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.”
“You don’t know what you got until it’s gone” is a proverb that proponents of putting a sales tax referendum on the ballot in Washington County have been quoting lately. They say (I am para-proverbing here) that if the local option sales tax is not increased to the 2.75 percent limit, the state will take it.
Seven percent of 9.5 percent sales tax now collected in the county goes to the state. Members of the city and county boards of education would like to see the local rate raised from the current 2.5 percent to the maximum 2.75 percent state law to fund local schools. School board members and at least one city commissioner have said hiking the local rate would be a defensive move. They fear the state General Assembly might decide to raise the state’s rate to the maximum and keep all the revenues in Nashville.

It’s an argument that has been used before to try to convince voters to raise the local sales tax rate. It’s also one that has failed to make a difference at the ballot box. The last sales tax hike in Washington County was approved in May 1994. City and county school officials banded together then to push passage of a referendum to raise the local option sales tax from 2.25 percent to where it stands today. It was a close vote, with 6,720 voting for and 5,208 voting against.
Subsequent attempts to raise the sales tax in Washington County were defeated soundly in 2000 and in 2004. In each of those referendums, proponents said the state was just itching to keep the remaining portion of the local option in Nashville. Doing so would constitute a state tax increase, and legislative leaders I’ve spoken to say that’s not going to happen on their watch.
In fact, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told me last week it’s “ridiculous” to think so. “I’ve heard that argument before, but it’s never been discussed in Nashville,” Ramsey said.
He said the idea of raising the sales tax is not even on the radar screen. He said the Republican-led General Assembly has already made massive cuts to balance the state budget and is “prepared to make even more if necessary.”
Talk of a tax increase is poison to Republican lawmakers. Many of them have signed irresponsible anti-tax increase pledges that could be used against them come re-election time if they were to go back on their promises. Regardless of what you think of the Republican stand on taxes, the GOP is a disciplined party that punishes any members who dare go astray.
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.”

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at

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