Henry says public needs more of a say on state issues

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   As many people are finding out, Carter County is a great place to "take a load off," so to speak. Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Henry did just that Tuesday, for about an hour anyway, on a whirlwind tour of Upper East Tennessee.
   Escorted by former Sen. Bob Burleson, Henry and relative Frank Henry stopped at an antique mall in Valley Forge, chatted with Carter County Sheriff John Henson and Road Superintendent Jack Perkins, and made the scenic drive around Watauga Lake to Johnson County before stopping over at Roan Mountain State Park.
   On the way to the conference center they pulled to the side of the road to let traffic pass so they could do a little "Sunday driving" to their destination. Park Superintendent Glen Hatfield got a pot of coffee going while Henry made himself available to answer media questions. When conducting business, there's no better place to be than sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair overlooking the park and sipping a cup of coffee.
   Here's a capsule of Henry's views on issues faced by state lawmakers and citizens. Action on some issues can no longer be avoided, he believes.
   Balancing the budget
   "I think it's a constitutional requirement in the state for us to balance our budget. And it looks like to me that after three years, the Legislature is heading once again into draining every department of every readily available dollar we have. We're taking land acquisition money for future buys of property in Tennessee and opening up state parks with it. I think that's a mistake. We shouldn't be taking money that we've accumulated [and use it] for recurring expenditures. ...
   "I just see a continuation of a downward spiral for us. Using that money, using all of the rainy day fund, once again using the tobacco money -- we will end up just barely scraping by and perhaps having to bond some of the indebtedness that they accumulated last year. What they're going to do is put the new governor really behind the 8 ball. He's probably going to have to ask for an immediate tax increase in order to meet the constitutional obligations to have a balanced budget."
   Taxes vs. development
   "I think you call for a constitutional convention on taxes. We elect a new set of delegates to go to Nashville that don't have to be re-elected, that don't have to worry about whether their next lobbyist is going to support their campaign. I think you take those people to Nashville and you wipe off all the taxes and we start back with a full debate from all sectors. Everybody ought to be invited. We ought to try to design even more than one plan and then the people ought to vote it. Whatever it is, we really need to get behind it and support it, because I really believe that one of the big things that's happened to our state right now is that we're so divided as a people that we're not going to be able to move forward."
   State income tax
   "I've never been for a state income tax. I voted against it in 1985 and I'm not for one now, but there are so many kinds of an income tax: a progressive income tax, a flat-rate income tax. ... There's 42 states now, I think, with an income tax, and all of them are in financial trouble, too. This recession hits everybody. It hits us a little harder because it's sales-tax driven. When times get hard, you don't buy that refrigerator or car that you usually buy. But what I found when I looked at the other tax systems is that every time the states passed an income tax and they needed money, they raised the sales tax again.
   LLC's and service taxes
   "We've got $4 billion worth of services in the state that aren't taxed. I think you have got to take a new look at that. You're not going to get it through a regular House committee now because of the special interest groups. LLC's are just part of the problem. LLC's were originally started to limit a person's liability. Now, it's a tax dodge in many cases."
   Roads vs. education
   "It's obvious that we made a commitment to roads is the reason that we've got good roads. Most of the people that I know that are pushing to have money taken out of the road fund and put into education and government are the ones that haven't got the roads yet. ... When we passed that program, we made a commitment to build so many roads in this state; until we build those roads, I think it would be shortsighted of us to change directions. The new governor needs to take a look at the priorities that we're setting on roads in the state. It's really the first time that I've been involved in politics where people criticize the roads. Before, all you had to do as a politician was promise a few roads. But now people are really taking a look at it. I think that's healthy.
   Funding state parks
   "Education will teach you the things that you need to preserve, but a healthy park system is not only good for Tennessee, it's smart for Tennessee. It brings in a lot of visitors and it preserves the kind of setting that we're sitting in today. As a governor, I think we need to continue to look for opportunities to expand our parks and look for ways that they can help pay for themselves. ... We've got 29 million visitors to our state parks every year. We've got a $23.5 million deficit. I think we need to take a look at charging $1 for every person. If we had $1 for every person, there'd be a surplus. Not many people would object to $1."
   Environment
   "One of the things that we need to do is have Safe Growth. We need to plan regionally what our growth is going to be. Knoxville, right now, is one of the top cities in the country on air pollution. ... We need to be sure that we're diligent in trying to get TVA to continue to monitor the coal-fired steam plants in the state and try to be sure they're as clean as possible with scrubbers. We've got to be diligent."
   Future industrial needs
   "I think the biotech industry has a big future in Tennessee and there's a lot of work being done in Memphis and Oak Ridge with technology transfer. We spent 100 years in this country perfecting how to put a bomb on the back of a flea from 5,000 miles away, and we do that better than anybody. But what we lost was the ability to make a brake system [or] a better muffler system for a car ... because the best engineers and scientists in Germany and Japan were creating that while we were developing the bomb technology. ... I think the future lies in a good sprinkling -- tourism, manufacturing, high-tech industry, biotech industry. The tech industries are the ones that need the fostering most right now."
   TennCare
   "I actually think there's something going on in politics right now that's very ugly: pitting people that don't have insurance against people that do have insurance. It's something that we ought never do, pitting the haves against the have-nots. It might sound good if you're out here with a good insurance policy to talk about someone that ought to be taken off health care, but I will tell you right now, if you don't have health care, you don't have anything. I think there are some things that we can do: Let's be sure that people that are eligible are on TennCare; let's reduce the benefits to where they look more like what regular Tennesseans have; let's be sure that the uninsurables and the needy are divided. We've got 650,000 kids in this state that are under the needy category. If we want any kind of future, we can't deal those kids out.
   "The uninsurables, if they're millionaires and can't get insurance, there ought to be a rate that they can pay commensurate to their salaries. We ought to take the politics out of eligibility. If we've got state representatives and senators out there politically getting people on TennCare, it needs to stop. We need to get information systems that are designed to know who is paying and who isn't. We've got an information system in TennCare that was designed and operated in the '80s for Medicaid, so it doesn't work very well. Whoever the new governor is needs to solve that in about 30 days."