Gabriel counting on 'business plan' and citizens frustration in Sente race

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Richard Dale Gabriel believes he represents a majority of Northeast Tennesseans who have tired to the past three years of hand-wringing over the state's tax structure.
   "I feel I represent the past four or more years of peoples frustration of not being heard and not being represented properly," said Gabriel, 39, of Johnson City. The Del Rio, Texas native is the Democratic nominee in the state Senate's 3rd District representing Washington and Carter counties.
   Gabriel said reforming government needed to start at the local level and move upwards through the state. Each government department at both the local and state level should operate as small businesses, using tax dollars without spending wildly.
   He said the sales tax increase limited the amount of disposal income and left low- and middle income families with an undue tax burden.
   Gabriel said he would not have voted for the "Cooper revenue plan" that ultimately passed the General Assembly, increasing the state's sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent.
   "I feel that government can manage within its revenue limit and produce programs that would yield savings that could be returned back to state employees and local government," he said.
   The Del Rio, Texas native said he believed in "fanning out" basic reforms of lower spending and more efficient spending beginning with local agencies.
   "Right now I do not think an income tax will fix our current condition," said Gabriel. "One, because I believe government has become too dependent on taxes across the board.
   "I believe until we can get a good representation to decide the awesome responsibly of taxation, deciding a state income tax by a few is not the right course."
   "It is up to leadership to bring the case to the people by whatever means possible to be able to trust these people before a major historical decision is made," he added.
   Raised in a military family, he moved to Tennessee after graduating from high school in Charleston, S.C., in 1982.
   He served four years in the U.S. Air Force and three years in the U.S. Army and later joined the Tennessee National Guard after the Gulf War. Gabriel graduated from East Tennessee State University with a bachelor's degree in General Studies. He said he was presently working for Pitney Bowers management company in Bristol.
   Gabriel said he did not wish to engage in mudslinging with either of his challengers, but wanted honest answers about what the state's plan to fund equalizing teachers' pay, funding K-12 and higher education as well as the state's tax structure.
   "Charlie Mattioli wants an income tax and I don't," said Gabriel. "Rusty Crowe would vote for an income tax if they people wanted it."
   Gabriel said he supported a "small" co-payment plan for enrollees of the TennCare plan and the disqualification of enrollees convicted of drug and drunk driving offenses.
   "I believe a small co-payment shared by all would entice more doctors to participate, with more services provided lowering the risk or the financial burden," he said.
   A lottery proponent, Gabriel said "legislating morality" was not the role of the state legislature.
   "I would vote for the lottery to insure the money went to where it was intended," he said. "We have in our hands the ability to learn from the mistakes other states have made in their own lotteries."
   Gabriel felt the state lottery should be established like what he termed a "mini-power ball." Funds raised by the lottery could be awarded to each of the state's three grand divisions in the form of grants to each county.
   He said a state lottery did not victimize poor and lower-income families with promises of instant wealth. "A lottery ticket does not differentiate between rich and poor," he said.
   He also wanted to see a reevaluation of child support payments. Gabriel said a better method would be setting support payments at net value and not gross income.
   "Parents in jail cannot pay; I'd rather have them working," he said.
   Gabriel said that gubernatorial candidates Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Van Hilleary each "had some good ideas" but declined to say which candidate he favored.
   The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the state's existing Salary Equity Plan to fund teachers salaries was unconstitutional.
   Gabriel said he supported equal pay for all Tennessee teachers, but warned that the budgetary consequences of the Supreme Court's ruling was unknown.
   "It has not been determined where the money will come from, what will be cut or what will be reduced to pay for the equal pay," said Gabriel who also advocated hiring more teachers' assistants and more parents-assistants to alleviate the burden of teachers.
   He suggested the state's Department of Transportation loosen its grip on revenues generated from motor fuel taxes to help hire new teachers to reduce the student-teacher ratio in classrooms.
   A higher retirement scale level for state employees could be funded from a percentage of the department's highway fund, which is currently earmarked for highway construction and maintenance.
   "People's welfare, retirement, local and state government services should not have to come second to a highway built in the middle of nowhere," said Gabriel, "or a roadway built that would divert economics from a downtown area for a community's survival.
   "You can't drink and you cannot eat asphalt and concrete."