'Independent' label suits Mattioli just fine

By Thomas Wilson

   Being an independent is more than a political classification for Charlie Mattioli.
   His own brand of independent thinking and the ability to take a stand are what he says motivated him to enter the race to become District 3 state senator in November.
   "I didn't think the present senator had the slightest answer or had any real solutions in the past few years," said Mattioli, citing the state's four-year budget battle. "Most of the things that people want from government cost money. Until we find a suitable budget to pay for it, we are going to be in trouble."
   Mattioli, 56, of Elizabethton said he was running as an Independent because he wants to break down party barriers in order to solve Tennessee's problems. He will be on the state general election ballot in November.
   He prioritized his campaign platform on four issues: An "Honest" state budget that funded state services, K-12 and higher education, energizing small businesses, and the environment.
   Mattioli is one of the few -- that is to say, only -- state Senate candidate to openly call for the General Assembly to pass a flat or graduated state income tax.
   Such a tax, said Mattioli, would reduce state taxes for the majority of Tennesseans and keep over $720 million in Tennessee through deductions on federal income tax returns.
   "A flat tax means everybody pays their fair share, but a lot of people don't understand that," said Mattioli.
   He said he supported the removal of the 7 percent state sales tax on food and non-prescription drugs and a reduction of the state sales tax to 2.75 percent on all other items.
   He said any legislation to implement a state income tax should include a "super majority" vote of 60 percent approval by the House and Senate to increase or alter a state income tax.
   Mattioli said he would not have voted for the "Cooper plan" passed by the General Assembly, raising the state sales tax to fund the state's 2002-2003 budget.
   A commitment to excellence in education was a hallmark of his campaign, said Mattioli.
   The state must fully fund higher education, increase K-12 funding, expand pre-school programs, and invest in professional development for teachers while improving their salaries, he said.
   He also said that while standardized testing was important, the educational process needed to be "enriching" with lessons in civics, social studies, and literature rather than an end-all quest to raise math and reading scores.
   Mattioli also said that he strongly supported public schools, but he also supported the idea of charter schools to give public school students a choice to get the best education possible.
   A retired educator with over 30 years working in K-12 schools and higher education, Mattioli noted Tennessee's education problems but believes they are the result of revenue complications, not spending.
   "Higher education has been funded at 85 percent for the past three years. Tuition has gone up 49 percent in the last two years," he said. "I am for fully funding higher education."
   He also said the state needed to reduce tax on business, particularly small businesses where the lifeblood of much economic growth developed.
   "We need to encourage small business. We can't keep relying on some big industry to come in with hundreds of jobs," he said. "I believe the Med-Tech Corridor in Johnson City could be our fastest way to realizing that if it is developed."
   Environmental issues such as air pollution, maintaining a clean water system and improving health risks caused by air quality were also crucial issues the state would have to address in the near future, he added.
   Mattioli also said he does not believe TennCare is the sole reason for all of Tennessee's economic problems. He does see some room for improvement.
   "Some politicians use TennCare as a scapegoat for all our budget problems but they do not mention that two-thirds of TennCare dollars come from the federal government," Mattioli said. "We need TennCare but it does need reform to make it fairer, more cost effective and efficient."
   Born in Scranton, Penn., Mattioli spent the majority of his adult life teaching on a U.S. Air Force base in Alaska.
   He graduated from Florida Atlantic University and earned his master's degree in education from the University of Alaska. He and his wife Denee moved to Carter County. The couple have four children and three grandchildren.