- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Feb. 17

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn., on sales tax deduction all about fairness:

It’s “a matter of fairness,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says.

The federal government shouldn’t punish taxpayers in states like Tennessee because their legislatures didn’t adopt a state income tax.

Yet that is precisely what Uncle Sam is getting ready to do unless Congress acts. Alexander is co-sponsoring a bill to see that Tennessee taxpayers get a fair shake.

The Volunteer State saw fit long ago to base its budget on income from a state sales tax rather than a state income tax. Several other states, like Nevada and Washington, have done the same.

For the past decade, our state and local sales tax payments have been deductible expenses on our federal income tax returns. The agreement allowing the deduction had to be renewed every two years.

But as part of the December budget accord, Congress failed to renew the deduction. Unless Alexander and those who agree with him can sway Congress, Tennessee taxpayers will be socked with a major income tax increase.

Why should Congress care how a state’s tax system is based? Tax experts say a state income tax is fairer than a state sales tax, but that’s not the issue here.

Congress has no business telling a state how to raise money. We can hope that our national legislature is not so fractured by party politics that it cannot see the plain injustice of the situation.




Feb. 16

The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn., on metro exploits rape case:

Metro government and the attorney for the alleged victim in a Vanderbilt University rape case are perpetuating a lie that local media are sensationalistic and trying to exploit that woman. This cover story is an injustice not only to the news organizations in Middle Tennessee but also to the alleged victim in this terrible sexual assault case.

Recently, Davidson County Chancellor Russell Perkins agreed to a motion by attorney Ed Yarbrough to intervene in a lawsuit filed against Metro government by The Tennessean and a statewide coalition of newspapers and TV stations.

The attorney’s motive? To help Metro win a lawsuit. The media coalition’s motive in filing the suit? To prevent Metro from setting a dangerous precedent by which government entities could refuse to meet their public-record obligations to the residents of Tennessee.

The lawsuit against Metro is not about exposing the young woman in the media. The Tennessean and the media coalition partners do not identify victims in sexual assault cases without their prior consent even in such a high-profile case as this, in which four former members of the Vanderbilt football team stand accused of sexual assault.

In this case, the media have not done that. In fact, The Tennessean knows the woman’s name, because it was in the indictment that was filed in court, but has chosen not to publish it.

It was easy, however, for Metro’s Legal Department first, and then attorney Yarbrough, to smear local media’s reputation by playing on stereotypes that have no basis in fact.

Yarbrough sneered that The Tennessean “knows what sells papers.” The truth is that this newspaper understands and reveres its position in this community, and it has no intention to besmirch that position by publishing the name of the alleged rape victim, or by publishing photos or video taken in the commission of the crime.

It is a fact that third-party records such as phone texts and university documents gathered during this criminal case have been inexplicably placed under seal, and a gag order has been imposed on the parties in the case and their attorneys. But access to such records is protected by Tennessee’s Open Records Act.

Chancellor Perkins also granted a request by the state attorney general’s office to intervene on behalf of Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson. Johnson asked the state to join in on the basis of protecting the defendants’ right to a fair trial and the alleged victim’s privacy. Yet neither is at threat from these media organizations.

Last year, it was state Attorney General Bob Cooper who fought in court to keep secret the records of children who died or nearly died while in the charge of the Department of Children’s Services. His effort failed, because the people of Tennessee demanded their right to know how the state was failing these children. Now, Metro is making its own attempt to avoid accountability, teaming with Cooper’s office to skirt the open records law.

The implications should not be underestimated. The types of documents the media are pursuing are routinely filed by attorneys and district attorneys in this county and throughout Tennessee in a variety of cases. We cannot have trust in our public institutions without the ability to verify that trust.

In lying about the media’s intent, Metro government, the district attorney and the state attorney general clearly hope to protect their own privacy, power and privilege. It’s not about defendants’ or victims’ rights - it’s about not having to answer to anyone.




Feb. 13

Jackson (Tenn.) Sun on TennCare:

Could Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly be coming to their senses about TennCare expansion? We certainly hope so. Each day, Tennessee is walking away from an estimated $2.5 million of federal health care subsidies, leaving hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans without health insurance, compromising the financial stability of Tennessee hospitals and endangering health care jobs.

Moderate Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee joined Democrats to pass amended legislation that does not tie Gov. Bill Haslam’s hands in choosing to expand TennCare, as called for under the Affordable Care Act. This is a significant move because the original legislation sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, (SB0804) would have prohibited Tennessee from expanding TennCare. The amended bill only requires the governor to seek authorization from the General Assembly, which he already has agreed to do.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee are beginning to understand that not expanding TennCare is having unintended consequences, as expressed by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris also noted that while Republicans are opposed to the Affordable Care Act, it doesn’t make sense to tie the governor’s hands or to compromise the state’s TennCare program to make a political statement. Finally, some sensible conclusions from Republicans on this important issue.

We agree with Overbey and Norris that the Affordable Care Act is not the answer to improving the nation’s health care system. In fact, it has proven to be a disaster at every turn in the road. But whether we like the health care law or not is no longer the main issue. The Affordable Care Act is the law, and we can’t just walk away from it. Republicans’ stonewalling of TennCare expansion to make a political statement is having serious consequences and hurting Tennessee in many ways.

It is our hope that sensible lawmakers are beginning to understand that hospitals in their districts are suffering and some could close, health care jobs are at risk and low-income constituents are missing out on health insurance their counterparts in other states are receiving. How can lawmakers justify standing in the way of TennCare expansion when their constituents are suffering unnecessarily?

The federal health care dollars Tennessee is walking away from every day are dollars Tennesseans have paid in federal income tax, and that they have a right to benefit from under the Affordable Care Act. Refusing to expand TennCare deprives many Tennesseans not only of health insurance, but also of benefiting from the taxes they have paid. Lawmakers’ refusal to accept the return of these tax dollars to benefit their constituents is unconscionable.



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