By RICK NORTON
A heated “Letter to the Editor” war of words over the impact to local taxpayers caused by the …
A heated “Letter to the Editor” war of words over the impact to local taxpayers caused by the Tennessee General Assembly’s repeal of the Hall income tax has been ratcheted up another notch.
In a letter of her own directed to Bradley County’s legislative delegation — each of whom is Republican — Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini charged the foursome with playing a role in “… depleting much-needed revenue that can keep rural hospitals open and our bridges safe to drive on …”
Her “Letter to the Editor” to the Banner, dated Nov. 28, came two days after the Cleveland newspaper published a letter collectively signed by state Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville, District 9), state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga, District 10), state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown, District 22) and state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland, District 24).
Mancini’s letter is published in full on the Opinion page (Page 4) of today’s edition.
The whole editorial scrape started in the Nov. 19 edition of the Banner when Carl Lansden, a former chairman of the Bradley County Democratic Party, criticized Bell, Gardenhire, Howell and Brooks — in a “Letter to the Editor” — over their role in the Legislature’s repeal of the Hall income tax.
According to Lansden’s perspective, the repeal cost the city of Cleveland sufficient state revenue that it forced the Cleveland City Council to adopt a 29-cent property tax hike, part of which would be used to offset the loss in state money.
The Hall income tax is a levy on interest and dividend income from investments. It is the only tax on personal income in Tennessee. Before 2016, the tax rate was 6 percent.
In 2016, the state reduced the rate to 5 percent. Based on Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, the Hall income tax eventually will be phased out over the next few years. Its reduction will take place in 1 percent increments until Jan. 1, 2021, at which time it will be fully repealed.
In effect since 1929, the Hall income tax revenue is split between the state general fund and local community governments. Local communities — like Cleveland — receive Hall income tax revenue from affected taxpayers in their municipalities.
In the original “Letter to the Editor,” Lansden blamed Bell, Gardenhire, Howell and Brooks for the city council’s property tax hike, and facetiously suggested that city fathers should name the tax increase in honor of the four local legislators.
Angered by Lansden’s assertions, the local legislative delegation submitted a “Letter to the Editor” of its own. Published in the Nov. 26 edition of the Banner, the letter by Bradley County legislators took a defiantly partisan approach.
It began, “A recent letter to the editor criticizing the work and tax cuts of the Tennessee General Assembly perfectly frames the fundamental disagreement between Democratic and Republican principles: While Democrats believe in higher taxes and hold a ‘government knows best’ attitude, Republicans advocate for lower taxes for all and firmly believe as much money as possible should remain in your wallet to spend on those things you deem most important.”
On its day of publication, the delegation’s letter was accompanied by a front-page news story in the Banner.
Less than a day after the Bell-Gardenhire-Bell-Brooks letter appeared in the Cleveland newspaper, Mancini jumped into the fray.
Like the GOP legislators’ correspondence, the state Democratic Party chairperson’s reply took a decidedly partisan lean.
“After reading your letter to the editor concerning the Hall income tax, I have to ask: While you have been depleting much-needed revenue that can keep rural hospitals open and our bridges safe to drive on, what have you done to ensure that all Tennesseans have the opportunity for a better life for themselves and their families?” Mancini’s letter cited.
She added, “Let me ask it another way: What do you see happening in Bradley County and in every other county in this great state we call home?”
The Tennessee Democratic chair then answered her own question.
“I’ll tell you what we see,” she wrote. “We see distress. We see empty manufacturing sites that were once thriving with industry and opportunity for good-paying jobs. We see that once proud homeowners are now two paychecks away from eviction. We see nine rural hospitals that are now closed. We see bridges too weak for a kindergarten school bus to drive on.”
Mancini’s letter charged Tennesseans “have been ravaged” by Republican policies for almost a decade. She not only targeted Bradley County’s legislative delegation, but also Tennessee’s Republican-dominated lawmakers at the state, gubernatorial and national levels.
Her correspondence also tasked Tennessee’s Republican majority on issues like Medicaid expansion, state and community infrastructure, threatened cuts to Medicare and Social Security, economic development deals with private companies and improved wages, among others.
“It’s been almost a decade since the Republicans have taken control of the great state of Tennessee and have been sent in great numbers to Washington and to Nashville to do the people’s business,” Mancini’s letter closed. “Why is everything worse?”
Prior to Mancini’s letter, the Bradley County legislative delegation called the Hall income tax repeal “… a massive victory for Tennessee taxpayers.” Their perspective is that the Hall tax “… unfairly hurts senior citizens (who pay nearly 50 percent of the total Hall income tax in Tennessee), our entrepreneurs, and our job creators.”
Based on the content of the respective “Letters to the Editor,” the Republican ideal is that repealing the Hall tax will create more jobs in Tennessee; the Democratic perspective questions whether those jobs pay decent wages.
Quoting Stanton Mayor Allan Sterbinsky, Mancini wrote, “Are they the $25-per-hour jobs or are they $7.95-per-hour jobs?”
Like the Bell, Gardenhire, Howell and Brooks letter, published in full on Nov. 26, the Mancini letter is published in its entirety in today’s edition.
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