At this time of the year most media outlets fill their airtime/blogs/pages with a look back at the year that is ending. As usual, RTP takes a contrarian approach. We look AHEAD at the issues, personalities and politics that will shape the next year! Like Babe Ruth calling his shot to the upper deck, we tell you what is going to happen…then happily gloat when it does (we’ve been right on this stuff so many times we have lost count. But we’re sure the administration and leadership doesn’t appreciate our track record for prognostication.)
So we will once again rely on our crystal ball which presents itself in the form of a trusty half empty bottle of Jack and deliver our two part series previewing the five issues most likely to shape and disrupt the upcoming legislative session; and the political players likely to have the biggest impact or suffer the greatest stumbles in the coming year. First up, the issues.
- Insure Tennessee 3.0
Surely Governor Haslam won’t embarrass himself with a third pass at the effort to expand Obamacare, will he? But the folks with the deep pockets in the healthcare industry who want to fill those pockets with more of our tax dollars are whispering sweet “nothing-that-makes-sense” into the Governor’s ear and that kind of nonsense is the stuff he usually listens to. Look for him to try to sneak in something and look for him to be embarrassed. Again.
- Raising the Gas Tax.
Despite key leadership in the legislature making it clear that raising taxes in an election year is a non-starter for those who actually have to face voters, unlike the Governor, the Haslam team continues to do more road shows than the Stones, trying to drum up support for their “Increase The Gas Tax Tour.” Like one of those wind up monkeys, the Governor seems to be the only one clapping along with the “drumbeat” for raising taxes. A good question might be to ask just how much taxpayer money has his administration spent on his promotional efforts so far, hm-m-m? (Reminds one of all the lobbyist and taxpayer money spent promoting the failed efforts to pass Insure Tennessee.)
- School Vouchers.
This issue is looking like the new Wine in Groceries campaign: an annual full employment for the lobbyists that makes incremental progress, only to come up ju-u-st a little bit short. Will it be another close but no cigar year for the voucher push or is this the year when it actually happens? A plan has already made it through the Senate, but the House has been where the challenge remains. As the TEA continues to decline in power and influence, despite trying to buy some new friends on the Republican side of the aisle, this may be another nail in their coffin if the Republican leadership seizes the opportunity to pound it home. Exposing the Republicans in the pockets of the TEA in the process will be just an added bonus for those of us wanting to make sure the legislature is actually as conservative as their candidates claim to be during election years.
- Hall Income Tax.
Like school vouchers will this finally be the year that the Hall Tax is actually eliminated? The Governor has said he doesn’t like it, and if we were starting from scratch he would not have included it in the Tennessee tax structure. (But keep in mind that the Haslam family liked and supported the ill-fated push for a state income tax under Governor Sundquist, too. And the Governor clearly likes higher taxes, as indicated by his support for the increase in the gas tax. So take his verbal opinions with a grain of salt the size of a cow lick). Like most other issues, the legislature will have to do the heavy lifting on this one, with the Governor’s team channeling their inner Bill by vacillating hour by hour.
- Education reforms.
Common Core was repealed, or was it? The battle over Tennessee standards, including promoting Islam in Tennessee textbooks and classrooms will be on the table. Dues checkoff for the TEA. Test scores that seem to be flat yet somehow generate glowing press releases from the Governor’s Education team continue to confound those looking for actual improvement. Have you seen the latest comparisons for black students’ high school graduation rate (up to 72%) and their “college ready” rate (an unbelievably low 4%)? Yeah, explain to us again how that works.
- Rural internet service
In what could be a blow for either side, the Governor’s office has decided to stick its nose in the controversy and has commissioned a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer money to do a “study.” Word is both sides are fearful that the governor will screw up this issue, just like he has done on InsureTN, Common Core, the gas tax, vouchers, etc., etc., etc.
Since the drive behind this study is likely guber candidate, Randy Boyd, we assume it will require him to do yet more road tours and “interfacing” with officials and business people who can contribute and/or endorse his coming campaign. Some things never change with this administration.
So many issues, so many landmines. And look for Haslam to step on every single one.