Crowe says sales tax paves way for new leadership

By Julie Fann
star staff

Though he didn't truly support a raise in the state sales tax, Sen. Rusty Crowe, who is running for re-election, is certain it was the best choice the General Assembly could have made to resolve the quagmire surrounding the state budget. Crowe believes the new revenue plan will move Tennessee into a fresh gubernatorial administration.
   "I think it was the best of two or three bad choices we had -- an unconstitutional and illegal income tax, shutting the government down in five-day increments to force an income tax, and the DOGs budget, which would have ruined our state," said the 55-year-old lawmaker.
   Thirty-one of the House's 41 Republicans voted for the Cooper bill, which raised the income tax from six to seven percent state-wide, as did 19 Democrats. The plan returned full funding to K-12 education and replenished the Rainy Day fund, while simultaneously cutting $500 million from Gov. Sundquist's requested budget.
   "Hopefully now we can begin to lower our sales tax and our business tax to lower the burden on citizens and business, if we approach solutions with an open mind. The problem we had in all this was this administration was trying to force the income tax," Crowe said.
   Crowe commandeered a solid stance against an income tax, rallying its unconstitutionality by co-sponsoring a Constitutional Convention bill with Senators Curtis Person and Mark Norris. Had the bill been approved, voters would have selected delegates who would meet to discuss a tax approach for the 21st century.
   "I don't think we will move toward an income tax until we have a governor that's willing to involve the people of the state in the process, and one who involves our established rule of law," Crowe said.
   The problem that exists with the current sales tax plan, according to Crowe, is that it's too high, primarily affecting items people need to sustain life. Crowe called it a regressive tax that needs to be lowered dramatically and broadened to include a wider range of items.
   "Then, it's more competitive and fair, equal across the board in a way that affects both the rich and the poor," he said.
   Crowe also sponsored a performance-based budgeting bill, a plan that he said would limit the amount of spending in the state by requiring that each department function like a business rather than a bureaucracy.
   "It would provide strict accountability for spending and install performance criteria that departments will have to meet. This will be coupled with a Budget Oversight Commission that doesn't report to the governor but reports to the people through the Legislature," he said.
   Crowe said the Oversight Commission would review each year's budgeting process and, if departments save money as they should, there are incentives, such as allowing the Legislature to put money in the Rainy Day fund. If money is handled irresponsibly, lawmakers must explain where it is being appropriated.
   "What I have done is a very prudent approach that will make sure money we're spending on government will be properly budgeted and spent," he said.
   Crowe's opponent in the upcoming election, Kevin Cole, R-Johnson City, has accused him of not showing leadership ability in the Senate because he didn't vote for the Fowler Constitutional Convention. The bill would have raised the sales tax by one and a half cents, including food. Not voting for the bill would have instituted a 3.5 percent income tax.
   "He says I should have voted for that. That was an awful tax bill, a catch-22. I think I showed leadership by respecting our Constitution, our system of government, and the will of the people," Crowe said. "I've taken extensive polls, and 85 percent of the Carter and Washington County people I've talked to do not want an income tax."
   Assistant to the Dean of Continuing Education at East Tennessee State University, Crowe feels pressured, he said, because most faculty and staff at the school support an income tax to increase funding for higher education.
   "They want more money for higher education, and an income tax is the quick way to get it, but violating our government policy is not the way to get it," he said. Nevertheless, Crowe believes funding is needed for higher education because current jobs demand greater technical knowledge.
   "We put funding into K-12 education, but if we don't build a proper bridge by building up higher education, we will be letting students down," he said.
   Crowe has served two terms as a Democratic senator and one term as a Republican. He wants to serve two terms for both parties because his caring for people is not partisan.
   "I was proud that the people voted for me in both parties, because the purpose of my candidacy is to serve them," Crowe said.
   Crowe holds degrees in law and criminal justice. His wife Sarah has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science and is in charge of safety and emergency procedures at Nuclear Fuel Services. Their two children, John-John, eight, and Katie, 14, attend University School.