Posted November 10, 2004
Tax Reformers Fare Well in Elections
State legislators who have supported balanced tax reform in the
past fared much better than generally predicted in this 2004 election cycle.
This result is in accord with the continuing solid majority of
Tennesseans who indicate their support for balanced tax reform in statewide
surveys of public opinion conducted by the Survey Group at Middle Tennessee
State University (MTSU).
Ever since the sales tax hike took effect in 2002, giving Tennessee
the highest retail sales tax in the country, support for balanced tax reform,
including an income tax, sales tax reduction, and repeal of the food tax, has
stayed in the 60% range, with the most recent MTSU poll (Fall 2004) showing
59% support (Click here for more on poll).
“Those pundits who claim that support for tax reform is
a political kiss of death haven’t bothered to look at the election returns,”
states Tennesseans for Fair Taxation (TFT) Board Chair Chris Daly of Chattanooga.
“It’s important that people know the truth, not just the spin that
the anti-tax radicals people generate.”
TFT’s analysis of election 2004 results focuses principally
on legislators who voted “yes” on House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s
balanced tax reform plan in 2002. Naifeh’s plan would have lowered the
state sales tax, eliminated the state food tax and the Hall tax on interests
& dividends, and established an flat income tax with very generous front-end
exemptions. This plan would have lowered state taxes for more than 60% of Tennesseans
and raised more than $800 million in new state revenue. When the Naifeh plan
fell short by a handful of votes, the General Assembly approved a 17% increase
in the state sales tax.
Of the 13 Naifeh tax plan supporters who faced general election
challenges in 2004, 12 won, a 92% success rate.
Tax reform opponents failed to defeat Speaker Naifeh (D) of Covington,
despite the considerable effort and money of anti-tax radicals from outside
his district to influence the outcome. Naifeh was reelected by a margin of 58%
Rep. Joe Fowlkes (D) of Cornersville was another target of the
campaign waged by anti-tax radicals, yet he won reelection by 52% to 48%. Other
targets included Rep. Mike Kernell (D) of Memphis, Rep. Harry Tindell (D) of
Knoxville, and Rep. Rob Briley (D) of Nashville. Both Kernell and Tindell won
by a margin of 55% to 45% and Briley prevailed by a margin of 61% to 39%.
Other tax reform supporters who defeated opposition were: Joe
Armstrong, Kim McMillan, Steve McDaniel, Craig Fitzhugh, Larry Turner, Barbara
Cooper, and Henri Brooks. In addition, 13 other supporters did not have opposition
in the general election.
The only loss among the Naifeh tax plan supporters of 2002 was
Rep. Tommy Head (D) of Clarksville. While the loss of Rep. Head is significant,
the impact of tax reform sentiment in this race is difficult to gauge since
George Bush carried Robertson County over John Kerry by a margin of 60% to 40%.
Earlier, during the August primaries, tax reform supporters won
as many seats as they lost. Two representatives who voted “yes”
on the Naifeh plan 2002—Rep. Brenda Turner (D) of Chattanooga and Robert
Patton (R) of Johnson City—were defeated. However, Turner lost to another
candidate (JoAnne Favors) considered to be more progressive on tax reform and
other issues. The loss of Patton was more than offset by a big pick-up in Nashville
where Rep. Gary Moore, a vocal tax reform supporter, defeated Tim Garrett, a
solid “no” on tax issues who voted against the Naifeh plan in 2002.
In summary, the election 2004 cycle, including the primary and
general elections, produced a total of three losses among Naifeh plan supporters.
One loss (Turner) was to a candidate more progressive on tax matters. Another
loss (Patton) was off-set by a pick-up in Nashville where anti-reform Garrett
was beaten by pro-reform Moore. The net loss among Naifeh plan supporters is