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State rep. candidates tackle Q&A before taking it to the House

Gary B. Gray • Jul 12, 2014 at 10:33 PM

Here are the responses from three candidates for the Tennessee House of Representatives to questions asked by the Johnson City Press. Clayton Stout is a candidate in the 6th House District while Phil Carriger and Todd Franklin are both candidates in the 7th House District.

1. There has been talk about placing a cap on the amount of property tax cities and counties can require residents to pay. At present, there is none. What is your take?

Carriger: My philosophy has always been that local government knows their communities’ needs better than Nashville and/or Washington, D.C., both the source of unfunded mandates. If you think legislators in Shelby and Davidson counties know Washington County folks better than our county and city commissioners, then I guess you will support this idea. Our local governments hear quite often from property owners when property is reappraised and annually when tax notices are mailed. I will oppose any legislation that limits the ability of local governments to make decisions it deems to be in the best interest of the community. Local folks make better decisions about issues affecting themselves than a government worker in Nashville or Washington, D.C.

Franklin: Property taxes in Tennessee are some of the lowest in the country. As a percent of home value and as a percent of income, Tennessee property taxes are the 12th lowest in the country. We really don’t have an issue with high taxes when compared to other states. The state should let the local governments decide what is best for themselves. Excessive property taxes would be dealt with by the citizens in the voting booth. The state should not exert excessive power over local governments. This has already happened with actions such as the state recently passing a law regulating local municipalities’ abilities to have community gardens.

Stout: As vice mayor of Johnson City, we have worked hard to hold the line on property taxes. I believe our state has a good tax system and I support it with some tweaks. As a state representative, I will work to continue reducing the sales tax on groceries and phasing out the death tax. We are fortunate to live in a state with no state income tax.

2. There also has been movement in Nashville to allow the state to keep a larger percentage of sales tax revenues collected at local levels. What are your thoughts?

Franklin: I agree with letting the local government keep more sales tax revenues and having less money go to Nashville to be filtered back down to the local level. Allowing the local government to keep more of the tax revenue and make the decisions about how the revenue is spent, is more efficient, only makes sense and is consistent with the attitude our state legislators have toward Washington. If any change were to occur with state sales taxes, I would also be in favor of restoring the vendor fee for collection of sales taxes at this time.

Stout: I oppose any effort by state government to raid local sales tax coffers. Local governments are limited to three primary revenue streams: sales tax, property tax and wheel taxes. If the state were to take a portion of the local sales tax revenue, this would force local governments to raise property taxes or cut funding for public safety. Both of these options are unacceptable. As a state representative, I will fight any attempt by state government to take a portion of local sales tax revenues.

Carriger: Local governments work very hard to improve and grow local sales tax revenue. This work includes roads, sidewalks, traffic signals, water, sewer, police and fire protection. Currently, our local sales tax receipts go to support local education. If the state takes more of our local sales tax dollars, how do they propose we fund education? Local governments are in need of additional funding in meeting the technological requirements of the PARCC testing assessment. This proposal sounds like an idea a big government person would love. When state government takes more of our local sales tax revenue, it leaves local governments with the tax increases to deal with the new expenditures imposed by the state.

3. Should local governments be allowed to raise the minimum wage within their jurisdictions? If so, in what manner should it be done? If your opinion is this should not be allowed, please explain why.

Stout: I am opposed to a local minimum wage. Wages should be set by the marketplace, not by governments. My top priority as a state representative will be to attract more jobs to Washington County. By setting a local minimum wage that is higher than surrounding communities, we would drive small business and the jobs they produce away from our area.

Carriger: Local governments should not raise the minimum wage within their jurisdictions. The logic behind a local minimum wage would be that the local marketplace between buyers and sellers of labor does not work and that government knows best. Who would know what a job should be paid, the owner of a business or a government official? What unique expertise does local government have that gives them the wisdom to set local wages? Earlier in my life I took lower-paying jobs that led elsewhere because I valued the work experience available to me and fully expecting those jobs would lead to bigger and better jobs. Those who disdain low-paying jobs or refuse to accept minimum wages for entry-level work are not thinking about the future. Whatever reduces the opportunity for work and experience for people with little experience has the effect of costing them and society in the long run. When government sets wages the number of jobs available for inexperienced young workers decreases and solves no problem.

Franklin: I don’t believe the state should have a minimum wage and I don’t believe local governments should be allowed to set their own minimum wage. This is one area where Nashville should set a consistent standard across the state, leaving the minimum wage up to the federal government. It simply is a bad idea and bad for the economy, especially at a time when the economy is still weak. The most overlooked factor in the discussion of minimum wage is what happens to those who make more than minimum wage when the minimum wage is increased. The Congressional Budget Office projects there would be some jobs lost due to a minimum wage increase and that “real income would decrease, on net, by $17 billion” for some families due to lost jobs and “higher prices” due to the wage increase. So, if we increase the minimum wage to help out low income workers, at the same time, we are hurting the lower middle class by reducing their spending power when inflation hits after the wage increase. Prices will increase and the worker is left making the same as someone with less experience and less skill. In addition, cities with a higher minimum wage may lose new businesses due to the higher wage requirement. We don’t need to make it harder to find employment. Instead, we need to work on getting more high paying companies moving to our state. Those companies may also have low-paying minimum wage jobs for unskilled entry-level positions. We should not discourage these companies from relocating to Tennessee.

4. Should registered gun owners be allowed to carry weapons openly? Under what circumstances should this not be allowed. If you disapprove of an open carry law, please explain why.

Carriger: Here in East Tennessee, the 2nd Amendment isn’t just a political issue. Hunting, fishing and defending our property and our families are fundamental to our culture and our very way of life. I believe the current laws covering this issue are adequate.

Franklin: Gun owners who have a carry permit should be able to open carry in most situations, but should be limited in some government buildings, such as schools, courthouses and police stations. Businesses should have the right to say whether they allow open (or concealed) carry of firearms on their own property. This is a property rights issue and no one should tell a property owner what they must allow on their own property. Open carry should not be allowed without a permit. Any self-respecting gun owner knows that gun safety is a must and a true believer of 2nd Amendment rights should be a true believer of gun safety. The only permit requirement for open or concealed carry should be an effective safety course, in addition to a background check. The renewal fee should not be the current $50 but only a modest processing fee. High fees for carry permits are an obstacle to the right to bear arms. The state shouldn’t be able to limit carry permits by charging excessive fees.

Stout: Law-abiding Tennesseans are allowed to obtain a concealed carry permit for their handgun from the state. In recent years, the concealed carry permit process and renewal procedures have been streamlined to benefit law-abiding citizens. Tennessee’s concealed carry permit process has worked well and I support it. As an avid outdoorsman and member of the National Rifle Association, I strongly support the 2nd Amendment rights of Tennesseans to use their firearms for personal defense and sport.

5. What actions can the General Assembly take to help stimulate the economy and provide living-wage jobs?

Franklin: The Tennessee General Assembly should look at our current programs including the TNInvestco program and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) FastTrack programs. These programs in their current state are open to misuse. The FastTrack Infrastructure Development program is open only to certain businesses who are primarily engaged in manufacturing and exporting. Other businesses can be approved by the commissioner of the TNECD. An exception like this is inviting at least the appearance of favoritism and there have been claims by businesses that favoritism has been shown in this process. Eligibility requirements should be open to a wider variety of businesses and allow a panel using a list of criteria to approve any exceptions, instead of a single commissioner. This would avoid even the appearance of favoritism and improve the diversity of businesses we are bringing to the state. The TNINvestco is also a TNECD program and its success is questionable, generating 577 jobs from over $111 million in allocations, according to an April article in the Tennessean. This works out to over $192,000 per job although other sources claim it is only $140,000 per job. Tennessee also needs to improve its support for small business and offer as much assistance for small business as it does for larger corporations.

Stout: As a state representative, I will work to maintain Tennessee’s balanced budget, and I will oppose efforts to grow government. I will push to cut red tape and regulations on small businesses in order to attract new businesses and allow those already here to expand. I will join other state legislators to fight Obamacare and federal mandates that increase cost on small businesses. I believe it is very important that our community has a representative who will work with Gov. (Bill) Haslam to bring more good-paying jobs to our community.

Carriger: Tennessee should stimulate the economy by providing a top-notch educational system, maintaining a fair legal system, protecting private property rights and keeping government limited, local and small. Most profit-making enterprises do not in fact make a profit as evidenced by the high percentage of new businesses that eventually go out of business after a few years of starting. If the consequences of a government’s actions are initially good, and the bad comes later, especially if the later is after the next election, then politicians are tempted to adopt such policies. With all of this said, it requires a team effort that includes state and local governments and private businesses working together to improve the economy and local wages. A good starting point is to ask local businesses for the names and addresses of their suppliers and customers, with the proper consent, so that we might call upon them and encourage them to look at locating in Washington County. My experience in recruiting businesses is that they always ask about the K-12 educational system, tax rates and the local workforce. It all goes back to keeping government limited, local and accountable while maintaining a good educational system.

6. The way annexation works in Tennessee has changed. However, the formula continues to evolve. Please talk about what types of policies regarding annexation can be implemented to better serve all parties involved.

Stout: There are only certain areas in our state that this is debated. Many state representatives in Nashville fully don’t understand the complexity of this issue. That’s why I believe this a local issue that should best be solved by local leadership and input. I believe there will be unintended consequences from my opponent’s legislation. As a state representative I will work with the county and city to help navigate through the challenges of this legislation.

Carriger: I applaud allowing local people to decide if they wish to be annexed. It should be the responsibility of the city requesting the annexation to convince property owners of the value of being a city resident. The weakness in the current law is that renters are allowed to vote on annexation and not the property owners, when the owner lives outside of the area in question. Owners of real property have to pay property taxes and it seems unfair that renters can cause property to be annexed without the owners’ consent.

Franklin: A good way to evaluate the value of annexation for potential residents of a city is to examine its current activities. This should include activities related to providing service to its current citizens: how well a city manages its budget, accreditation of its police and fire departments, public services the city provides and the crime rates of the city. If a city is struggling to meet its current obligations, annexation is not the answer. If a city cannot meet its current obligations to its citizens, annexation would be like someone trying to borrow their way out of debt. I think the recently passed law that only allows annexation by referendum should allow citizens to make wise decisions about being annexed. The only role I see for the General Assembly is if transparency is an issue and citizens are not being provided with enough information.

7. Tennessee’s transportation fund is approaching a critically low level. Would you support an increase in the state gas tax to help fund road construction?

Carriger: OnApril 3, the Tennessee Department of Transportation released its new three-year work program. In our area, two of our projects are in the new work program. They are, Exit 17 on I-26 and Exit 24 on I-26. Tennessee is continuing its “pay as you go” philosophy and remains one of only four states in America to carry no debt for any transportation initiatives. TDOT commissioner John Schroer released the three-year transportation plan, featuring approximately $1.5 billion in infrastructure investments for 59 individual project phases in 41 counties as well as 14 statewide programs. Tennessee was notified that the federal highway trust fund is dropping and will soon be below $4 billion, the cushion federal officials say is needed for incoming fuel tax revenue to cover outgoing payments to the states. Bottom line, people are not driving as much as they have in the past and automobiles are much more fuel-efficient now, resulting in less fuel being sold. Revenue from federal gas and diesel taxes are expected to be about $8 billion short of the transportation aid the federal government has allocated to the states this year. We are being told our choices are: 1) allow our roads and transportation infrastructure to deteriorate, 2) borrow money, or 3) increase the tax on fuel. I would like to offer a fourth choice: repeal the federal tax on fuel and allow the states to finance their own projects using their money. Why do we need the federal government collecting taxes from us and then sending it to other states for good and bad projects? State fuel taxes vary, from 8 cents per gallon up to 52.89 cents per gallon. If a state wants a new bridge or road, let it raise the tax.

Franklin: Tennessee’s transportation fund is low because the federal government has not met its obligation in providing Tennessee with a return on federal gasoline taxes collected in our state. The federal government needs to cough up the money it has collected from Tennesseans. I oppose increasing the state gasoline tax. Instead, I favor three actions. First, instead of raising gasoline taxes, we should prioritize the importance of construction projects already planned for the coming year and postpone the projects with lower priority. Second, we should create a spending commission to evaluate all items in the state budget and see where cuts can be made. We need a spending commission regardless of the current highway funding difficulties. We have waste in our state budget and we can work to spend taxpayer dollars more effectively. Since Tennessee’s Highway fund is separate from the general fund, any funds transferred from the general fund should be temporary. Finally, in the long term, the real problem is the federal government collecting gas taxes in Tennessee and spending those funds elsewhere. There has been legislation introduced in Washington that would let states opt out of the federal gas tax and keep the revenues in the state. We need to lobby Washington very hard to make this happen, starting with our own U.S. senators and representatives.

Stout: Gasoline prices are on the rise again and nearing $4 per gallon. I will oppose any effort to raise the gas tax. A good transportation system is critical to bringing more jobs to Washington County. I will team with state highway officials to set priorities for road projects that are important for private sector job growth and retention. I am confident Tennessee can maintain our excellent highway system without raising the gasoline tax.

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