Henry avid supporter of Constitutional Convention

By Julie Fann
star staff

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Henry believes holding a Constitutional Convention is the best solution for the state's tax frustrations. During a campaign tour of East Tennessee Tuesday, Henry told Star reporters that Tennesseans need more influence on state government.
   "We need a new set of players in this state. We've got a populace that is absolutely disconnected from their government, and I think the way to reconnect with them is to give them a voice in how we tax in Tennessee," he said.
   Henry said he would support temporary tax solutions, such as a three quarter percent increase in the sales tax, until a Constitutional Convention could be held. Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, helped sponsor the Constitutional Convention bill with Republican Senators Mark Norris and Curtis Person.
   If the bill were approved, the people of the state would vote to have a Constitutional Convention, resulting in one delegate being elected from each Senate district in November. The convention would meet to decide what tax approach the state would take for the 21st century, and their decision would go back to the polls for a vote by the people.
   Henry said he believes the state is currently draining all department funds to avoid dealing with the budget in a more effective way, and he referred to the Legislature keeping state parks open the past six months with money that was originally set aside for buying additional park land.
   "They need to either add revenue or cut (spending). You can't pass an income tax, and you can't extend the base of the sales tax, so you don't have any choice but to pass the sales tax at this point," he said.
   During the next week as the Legislature reconvenes, Henry said he believes lawmakers will reach a compromise on the sales tax and that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh won't get the votes on an income tax. "I don't think Naifeh will get the votes, and I don't think there's the votes in the Senate. Besides, I don't know what that was all about do you? I can't imagine a Speaker of the House losing a vote," he said.
   The current DOGs budget (Downsizing Ongoing Government Services) or "no-new-revenue" budget has local school officials worried that deep cuts will be made to education funding. Henry is convinced though that the state won't make that decision. "I think when you're 49th in the country in spending on education that you're not going to cut education," he said.
   Henry also said he supports serious TennCare reform, beginning with tightening eligibility requirements and keeping insurance companies from deferring at-risk applicants into the program. Henry also said the program is too comprehensive, the reason behind the increase in out-of-state TennCare recipients.
   "My concept of what TennCare ought to be all about is a safety net for people who are needy, but it ought to be a program where the benefits aren't higher," he said. Henry also stated that companies need to be held more accountable for providing health benefits to employees instead of relying too heavily on temporary help.
   Henry used as an example a single mother he met at a Waffle House who was unable to afford health insurance through the company because it costs approximately $89 a week. "How in the world can you wait on tables at Waffle House and afford $89 a week? Is she at fault? Should she be taken off TennCare? Working mothers are the ones that really need some help. It's hard to write a law that takes all those people into account," he said.
   Henry said Van Hilleary, who is competing against him for the Republican nomination, continues to refuse to participate in a debate taking place this weekend in Knoxville sponsored by Channel Ten.
   "We think that Republicans deserve to see the candidates to see how they operate under a debating-style atmosphere. We're continuing to challenge him, but I doubt very seriously that we're going to get a reaction," he said.
   Henry said his own campaign efforts have been increasingly successful and that Hilleary has topped out, his approval rating remaining at 40 percent while Henry's has moved up 21 percentage points in the polls. "We think we've raised more money than he has since January, so we feel very good about our position," he said.
   Henry is the former mayor of Kingston, Tenn., and currently serves as CEO of OmniVisions, a child placement agency and service for the mentally challenged that has grown under his leadership from a small company to an enterprise that employs more than 650 people in Tennessee and North Carolina.