- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

April 8

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn., on tax reform:

Legislative toying with state taxes is a lot like trying to make an ill-fitting suit look good by taking up a little bit here and letting out a little bit there.

You wind up with one arm longer than the other and cuffs that don’t match, while what you really need is a new suit.

The tailors of lawmaking are at it again. They’re pushing a bill to take the scissors to the 6 percent Hall tax on investment income.

The measure has the backing of some 90 legislators including the speakers of both houses and even some Democrats. Some of them are no doubt looking for something sweet they can take back home for their re-election campaigns after the legislature adjourns.

Shaving, or even repealing, the Hall tax would curry favor with voters, particularly retirees who complain that it’s unfair to tax their main source of income while the rest of Tennessee’s citizens pay no income tax.

But those same lawmakers are forced to deal with a shortfall in the proposed state budget that currently stands at some $259.9 million. They can’t ignore it; the law requires income to match expenses.

The solution, it’s becoming plain to see, is tax reform - a new system of taxation that seeks to be as fair as possible to all Tennesseans.

Reform efforts, however, have foundered on the legislature’s total phobia of a state income tax. Our state no doubt has reaped many benefits from financing government without a general tax on income; but at the same time, we continue to rank among the poorer and more backward states by many measures.

Things won’t change as long as we’re content to live with poverty. While our mantra is “tax cut” instead of “equity,” we’re not going to see much progress.




April 4

Jackson (Tenn.) Sun on making community college free:

Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature piece of legislation this year is his Tennessee Promise plan to make community college free. His proposal has met with widespread support in the General Assembly. But, as with any legislation of this scope, there are questions that still need answers. Nevertheless, it appears the plan will pass and move Tennessee higher education to the cutting edge nationally.

The Tennessee Promise is a cornerstone of Haslam’s Drive to 55 project to dramatically increase the percentage of Tennesseans who hold post-secondary education degrees and certifications. That, in turn, is the cornerstone of the state’s economic development strategy. Attracting large, increasingly tech-oriented employers demands a strong workforce. The key to that is education.

A concern among state lawmakers, and a legitimate one, is how the state will pay for such a program. Haslam already has over-promised state education enhancements that he now can’t pay for; notably his commitment to give Tennessee teachers a raise, making their pay the fastest rising in the nation. Grand ideas such as this make for great press, and raise people’s hopes and excitement, that is until the bill comes due.

To fund the Tennessee Promise, Haslam would take $34 million from the Tennessee Education Lottery and establish a $47 million endowment to help offset future costs. The plan sounds reasonable today, but a program such as Tennessee Promise must be considered for its long-term needs and obligations. Consider that after two decades, funding Tennessee’s Basic Education Program for K-12 public education continues to face annual funding challenges.

Funding two-year colleges certainly will increase student numbers, and that is a good thing. But Haslam also must think beyond two-year colleges, and consider the impact on four-year schools. The Tennessee Promise ultimately will increase the number of students who go on to complete four-year degrees. How will that impact higher education funding needs? Already, the state’s colleges and universities face annual funding shortfalls compared to recommendations of the Tennessee higher Education Commission.

Getting more students into colleges and universities certainly is important to the state’s future. Figuring out how to pay for it while keeping college costs affordable and maintaining physical facilities is the dark part of the promise. A failure here ultimately would lead to funding challenges and student and higher education leadership frustration and disappointment.

The Tennessee Promise is an exciting proposal, but it must be accompanied by a real-world plan to pay for it over the long run.




April 7

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on freedom for Israel’s spy:

The release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard seemingly comes up in the context of every round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the mistaken belief that freeing a man who is quite simply a traitor to his country will make Israel more amenable to the U.S. view of how those talks should evolve.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently floated the possibility of Pollard’s release. The idea was that freeing Pollard would somehow keep the talks, which are preliminary talks about holding more talks, going. But before the issue could be sent to the White House for the necessary presidential pardon the preliminary negotiations fell apart on their own.

That made it increasingly unlikely that the parties would come up with anything substantive before the April 29 deadline to decide whether to pursue further talks.

Pollard, 59, was a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy when he began spying for Israel. He was arrested in 1985 as he and his wife sought asylum at the Israeli embassy in Washington. Israel at first disavowed him, but he became something of a national hero in that country and was awarded Israeli citizenship in 1995.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked - at every meeting with a U.S. president going back to Ronald Reagan - that his spy be released. Each one has said no.

Pollard is eligible for parole next year, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get it. If he must be released, it should be as a reward for specific, concrete accomplishments that benefit both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, not as an inducement for two sides who don’t much want to work with each other to keep on talking.





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