June 3, 2006
Food/Cigarette Tax Swap falls one vote short in final days of session
As many of you may have heard by now, the Food Tax - Cigarette Tax Swap fell
one vote short in the Senate Finance Committee, despite overwhelming public
support and strong support in the Legislature. Those five that voted in favor
of the Tax Swap included Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson), Sen. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville),
Sen. Ward Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga), Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville),
and Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis), and they all deserve a big "Thanks!"
Voting against the bill were Sen. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), Sen. Randy McNally
(R-Oak Ridge), and Sen. Doug Henry (D-Nashville). Sen. Ramsey's campaign was
also the single largest recipient of tobacco industry money on the Committee
according to a recent investigative report from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The tobacco lobby was clearly one of the fiercest opponents of the Tax Swap
and we regularly saw the lobbyists for R. J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris meeting
with the same legislators we were talking to.
While the tobacco lobbyists were fighting the cigarette tax increase, the Governor's
Office was opposing any reduction of the food tax, even if the revenue were
replaced as it is in the Tax Swap. Previous statements from the Administration
made clear that Governor Bredesen is considering raising the cigarette tax in
his second term for other purposes – purposes which do not include a food
tax cut – giving us yet another regressive consumption tax on top of what
we already have.
Two legislators abstained or "passed," including Sen. Mike Williams
(R-Maynardville) and Sen. Joe Haynes (D-Nashville). Sen. Jeff Miller (R-Cleveland)
was not present for the vote. Had any of these three voted for the Tax Swap,
it would have had the six votes needed for passage.
This was TFT's primary legislative focus for 2006. While we did not win in the
end, we made tremendous progress in just four short months.
We started with a bill and a concept that no one had heard of and turned it
into a living, breathing bill with 28 House sponsors and 7 Senate sponsors from
both sides of the aisle.
We brought tremendous media attention to the bill in just four months with 80
newspaper articles, dozens of TV news reports, and scores of radio spots. In
the process, we coined a new term, "tax swap," that legislators, the
media, and the public all understand as not a hike, not a cut... but an even
We built a stronger TFT in the process. We broadened the coalition and found
new allies. We built relations with legislators and Administration staff. We
gained new credibility with the media.
Finally, we planted seeds for a new idea, the Food Tax - Cigarette Tax Swap,
that will be around for a while. As Sen. Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville) wrote in
an email to one of our members, "I have a strong sense that this important
conversation will continue into our upcoming legislative session." That
News clips and links on the tax swap: