At legislative breakfast, Rep. Cole reports Northern Connector is 'on track'

By Greg Miller

STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

   The Northern Connector is "on track," State Rep. Ralph Cole reported to those who attended the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce Annual Legislative Breakfast on Friday at the Truman Clark Health Education Annex at the Carter County/Elizabethton Health Department.
   The final public hearing for the Northern Connector "will be sometime before this month ends," Cole said. "It's going to be a fine thing for the City of Elizabethton and for Carter County."
   Homeland security, taxes and the state's economy were among the topics of questions for Cole and State Sen. Dewey "Rusty" Crowe.
   One question was, "Do you support a consolidated form of government to reduce government expenses in Carter County?" "Folks, I can't answer that," said Cole. "I feel like that's up to the city and county to work that out. I have enough problems with the budget crisis we have in Nashville. I'm working to keep your property taxes from going up and things like that."
   If no new state revenue is generated, Cole said, according to the Comptroller of the Treasury and the state Department of Education, "Carter County will lose over $3 million in revenue to the schools." Carter County taxes, "would have to be raised 83 cents, which is 38 percent of your present tax base, or Carter County would have to lay off 90 teachers. We don't want that to happen."
   Tennessee's economic development condition, Crowe said, "is very, very good. You hear a lot of negative things about the state, but one of the great things about Tennessee is we don't borrow money for our roads. We have money to spend for roads, and roads mean jobs. It's part of that infrastructure, and that infrastructure is what brings business to Tennessee.
   "Tennessee, in many areas of economic development, is number one in bringing business to our state. We're doing better than almost any state in this nation, and I can tell you that's one of the things that Gov. Sundquist is most proud of.
   "What we've done in Carter County is worked with the best, especially right here in Elizabethton. We've used people like Haynes (Economic Development Commissioner Haynes Elliott), our city commission and county commissioners and our local officials. (Carter County Executive) Truman Clark has been a big, big part of this. Of course, Ralph and I have worked in Nashville to facilitate this."
   Combining the efforts of the business community and educational facilities has also helped. "When you combine the ability of your educational institutions in a county with your businesses that want to come in and make the sites ready and those opportunities are ready for them when they get here, it works," Crowe said. "Just like we've done here in Carter County. So economic development is thriving, and I think we plan to make sure those plans are there for business, as we have in the past."
   Responding to a question about what can be done to attract more employers to the area, Crowe said, "We're very lucky. Some counties don't have a good industrial recruitment effort like we do here in Carter County. The main thing you have is a good man in Haynes Elliott, who knows how to deal with people. You have a great county executive in Truman Clark." Crowe also mentioned the efforts of those in the offices of First District Congressman Bill Jenkins and U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson.
   A question was asked relating to the impact of taxing medical services. Cole said he was against such taxes. "I don't think that would be right," remarked Cole, who said he has worked to have the sales tax removed from groceries and non-prescription drugs.
   "I agree with Ralph," Crowe said. "Health care is not something you want to tax. The issue of broadening the base has been very much misunderstood. What I have said for some time now is the answer to our problems aren't one thing. The solution is not just to broaden the base. If we lower the tax and broaden the entire base, we'd be hitting health care, we'd be hitting residential energy..."
   Cole, who said he's "not going to tax health care," stated that the base should be looked at, refined and analyzed "to see if there are things in that base that should be dealt with, and there are. That can't be the solution, though."