State needs a "fresh start" in government says Crowe

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

    State Sen. Dewey "Rusty" Crowe says the state's tax and budget issues endured three years of debate mainly because legislators were given only a few options designed to force a tax on personal income.
   "One of the most frequent questions I get is 'why did it take three years to move forward in some way?'" said Crowe. "The reason is executive branch and legislative leadership were together in trying to force an income tax. When you have two branches of government, you can lead the state in any direction they want."
   Crowe, 55, is seeking his four term as a state senator in the Third District representing Washington and Carter counties. He said the state desperately needed a fresh start beginning with leadership from the state house.
   "We have to thank goodness we are moving into a fresh new governor's administration in January, we have a new cabinet and administration," he said. "We must instill that confidence in our consumers and in or business community that Tennesse is a great state."
   He has thrown his support behind Republican gubernatorial candidate Van Hilleary -- a staunch anti-income tax candidate. He also continued to champion a measure called "performance-based budgeting".
   Performance-based budgeting would provide 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.
   "Once we have that process ingrained in Tennessee government and throw out the old backroom budgeting process and bring in this new approach," he said. "The accountability for performance-based budgeting will rest in the legislature through an oversight commission and not through the governor."
   Rather than submitting a budget that was projected on tax revenues for the upcoming year, Crowe said the state could be better served by "getting behind the curve" and spending based on collected revenues rather than projected numbers.
   "That allows you to prioritize instead of having to budget based on not knowing how much you are going to have to spend," he said. "That's something that needs to take place regardless of whoever becomes governor.
   "If we could do this is change the course of Tennessee."
   Crowe maintained that if Tennessee was to be a sales tax state, sales taxes must be broaden to include other items currently exempt. Approximately $2.9 billion in sales of merchandise in Tennessee are exempt from a state sales tax, according to the state Department of Revenue.
   He voted for the "Cooper plan", which upped the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and added additional taxes on big-ticket purchase items. He said the legislature's 2002 session pigeonholed legislators to vote for "two or three choices" for a budget plan. He blamed income tax proponents for trying to force passage of a state income tax by permitting a the partial government shutdown in early July.
   Although leery of a state-run lottery in Tennessee, Crowe said that if a lottery referendum passed and became law education could benefit. He also said he hoped lottery legislation would alter the so-called "Georgia plan" that modeled a potential state lottery almost strictly to provide college scholarships to state high school students.
   "I don't think it is the best public policy for Tennessee, but I do think it is important for everyone to have the right to vote on this at the polls," he said. "Scholarships are great, but I'd like to be able to free up some for operational dollars."
   He also acknowledged that if a state lottery began sending providing more scholarships to state universities another problem existed. Decreased funding by the state to the state university system would likely pass the financial burden on to students in the form of tuition, he said.
   Crowe said the state Board of Education informed legislators last week that they were unsure of exact funds required to equalize teachers' pay. Estimates have ranged from $53 million to $400 million.
   "Whey they are trying to do first is determine what approach to take and that would in turn lead to how much it would cost," said Crowe.
   A strong death penalty proponent, Crowe said he believed in caution when administering the capital punishment given use of DNA research to overturn many capital cases around the country.
   "In light of modern technology with regard to DNA science research, we should be very careful and take every step we can that a person has a swift process and through the judicial system," he said.
   Tennessee executed Robert Allen Coe in 2000 -- the first person put to death in the state since 1960.
   Assistant to the Dean of Continuing Education at East Tennessee State University, Crowe has said publicly he felt pressure because most faculty and staff at the school support an income tax to increase funding for higher education. Crowe refused to vote for legislation that included a tax on personal income.
   The three-term incumbent did not befall the same fate of other upstate incumbents who lost primary races. He coasted to victory over challenger Kevin Cole in the Republican primary in August. Crowe believed upstate incumbents who lost in August felt the fallout of the income tax debate.
   "They had the feeling that government was trying to force upon them something they didn't want," he 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, eight, and Katie, 14, attend University School.