Legislators vote on redistricting

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF

   The main focus at the Tennessee General Assembly this week has been redistricting. Every 10 years the constitution requires redistricting based on census results. The Assembly will hold a final vote today.
   When Rep. Ralph Cole ran for office in 1998 he promised Carter County that he would try to get it consolidated into one district. In the early 1990s when Cole went to the General Assembly he saw about getting that done, and Carter County became one district. This week at the General Assembly, Cole has been fighting to keep Carter County as one district.
   Cole says that one district is more beneficial than two because the representative can concentrate his or her efforts on one area instead of two. The Assembly votes today on the redistricting, and Cole is confident that Carter County will remain as one district.
   The redistricting talks have stirred up some controversy in Nashville. Cole has been helping Congressman Bill Jenkins keep Sevier County as a part of his district. There had been talk that Sevier County would be removed from Jenkins' district during this year's redistricting, but it appears that it will remain where it was. "I can tell you right now that Sevier County will remain in Jenkins' district," Cole said.
   Cole and members of the finance committee heard testimony from John Morgan, Comptroller for the state of Tennessee. Morgan testified that the state of Tennessee will be $350 million short in this year's budget. If inflation and court decisions are factored out of the equation, then the base budget will have not increased in the last 26 years.
   The $19.6 billion in the state budget is allocated to a number of different areas. Funds go to court decisions and the federal government, leaving the state with a base budget of $4.6 billion.
   Morgan also testified that Tennessee citizens pay less taxes per person than most states in the country. Only one other state pays less in taxes per person than Tennessee.
   Although state shortfalls could be sizable with the proposed budget, Cole does not anticipate any changes. "I do not foresee any new taxes," Cole said. "If we would have fixed the budget three years ago then we would not be in this situation now, but due to the inaction of the General Assembly, the hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper."