By Steve Hunley

If the old adage about the country only being in danger when Congress is in session, Tennesseans are in danger as the legislature is in session.  There’s already been considerable speculation about whether the “honeymoon” between the governor and the legislature is over; frankly, it seems obvious to me it was over some time ago.  When the legislature killed Governor Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” program, I think the legislature sent a clear message.  If the honeymoon isn’t over, somebody is already running around.

There are clearly several areas for disagreement between the Republican super majority in the legislature and the governor.  Haslam has toured Tennessee trying to convince voters to raise the gasoline tax for infrastructure repairs.  The people haven’t been convinced, hence the legislators are still cool to the idea.  Senator Bob Corker has been promoting a similar hike in the national gasoline tax, so if the governor and Corker have their way, it should be a hefty increase per gallon.  Of course those promoting an increase in the gasoline tax preface the notion on a recovering economy and there are already signs the national economy is faltering.  There are a goodly number of people for whom the economy never got any better and increasing the gasoline tax is going to drive up prices, increase inflation and hurt working folks.  It perfectly illustrates how neither the Republicans and Democrats do little more than give lip service to the middle class.  Infrastructure repairs will mean a boon to big businesses while the Democrats will be bellowing to give more of everything to the “poor.”  I will be very surprised if the legislature agrees to increase taxes in an election year.

Tennessee also has a surplus of $600 million currently.  Now give a bunch of politicians $600 million extra dollars and few of them will overcome the temptation to spend it.  That lump sum begins to resemble a wounded whale and it’s not long before it attracts the sharks who want to take a big bite out of it.  Before raising gasoline taxes, the legislature ought to take some of that surplus and replace what was looted out of the road building fund in the first place.  Every special interest in the state will be in Nashville wanting some of that money to spend on their pet cause or themselves.  Why raise taxes when we have a surplus already?

It seems Haslam is unlikely to try and revive “Insure Tennessee” as it doesn’t seem the bill would be more popular in an election year.

Senator Frank Niceley has retooled and revived his bill allowing localities to elect the superintendent of schools.  The business elite, professional liberals and self-proclaimed good government types cherish an appointed superintendent.  I have personally participated in this experiment as a former member of the Knox County Board of Education and believe it hasn’t improved a single thing.  Perhaps the biggest selling points of an appointed superintendent were the elimination of politics from the school system and “getting the best person for the job”.  The last three superintendents were all appointed and I know very few people who would believe we got the best person every time and I voted for one of them.  Never ever forget, when you no longer are allowed to vote for someone, there are people out there – – – very few of them – – – who are doing the choosing.  If you think five members of the Board of Education are the only folks picking the superintendent of schools, pull two of your own teeth and put them under your pillow tonight.  Appointments are easier to control than elections.

The state legislature, over time, went from a solid Democratic majority to a Republican majority to a GOP super majority.  What have they done with it?  Not much.  Haslam campaigned on repealing the Hall Income Tax, yet it’s still very much with us.  Too many of the ultra conservative members of the Tennessee General Assembly spend their time sponsoring legislation to run people’s personal lives.  That’s one good reason why very few people under 35 don’t consider themselves Republicans any more.  The Republicans are no more competent to design social legislation than the cradle-to-the grave Democrats.  Perhaps it’s time for both to get out of sponsoring social legislation and work on the problems confronting our state.

Do we really need legislators trifling with who can marry whom, how to have babies, arguing about birth control or sponsoring meaningless resolutions meant to attract headlines?  Probably not.

The Republicans love corporate welfare every bit as much as the Democrats love social welfare.  Neither is good for the country or the state.  It’s time somebody took the side of the people who really do pay for everything – – – the middle class.