By: State Representative Susan Lynn
The Governor is asking Tennesseans to help him put schools first by supporting his “Schools First” education proposal which is to enact HB2354; a .40 cents per pack, $219 million cigarette tax increase.
However, like the tobacco settlement dollars, this legislation places the money in the general fund; it is not earmarked for education. None of the money will build one school, and much of the money must be matched by local governments. This is a great concern.
When the Governor came into office he had the “benefit” of a $1 billion tax increase from the prior administration. Yet teachers and state employees have fallen behind due to one time bonuses instead of actual raises. Lottery funds continue sit idle in mass surplus instead of being used to construct new schools. And as our schools become ever more overcrowded due to illegal immigration the Governor declares the problem to be a federal issue. The final disappointment, the April Sales Tax Holiday, so helpful for families with school age children, has been stricken from next year's budget.
Since 2002, tax revenues have grown by a tremendous 39%. With such revenue growth, it shouldn’t be difficult to put “schools first” if schools are truly the Governor’s priority. In fact, the Republican proposal to put "schools first" by funding the education budget before all other expenditures would truly do just that.
Tennessee’s low cigarette tax attracts purchasers from six of the eight states that border her. If enacted, Tennessee’s cigarette tax will be higher than all eight.
We know the cigarette tax is an unreliable and declining source of revenue. If the Governor truly wants to put "schools first", why is he putting them last by hinging their future on a tax increase instead of using the natural revenue growth that we have been experiencing? Why does he seek to put "schools first" by depending on an unreliable, declining and undedicated source of revenue like the cigarette tax? Why not support the Republican proposal to put "schools first" by establishing the education budget first before funding other needs? Why should our children’s future depend on the continued poor health habits of others?
In addition, the Governor argues that increasing the tobacco tax is good health policy. If increasing the tax on tobacco products is a rationale for protecting the health of our citizens why not use a revenue neutral proposal such as one that would lower the sales tax on food to accomplish this task?
As the administration’s own figures show, this year’s tax growth at over $439 million in recurring funds, and an additional $500 million in non-recurring funds, is more than enough money to put "schools first". These figures are expected to increase after the funding board meets on May 1.
As a Republican, I am in support of putting schools first in a fiscally responsible way by using natural revenue growth, and by funding education first before the rest of the budget.
For more information, please contact:
215 War Memorial Building
Nashville, TN 37243-0157
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