Mattioli believes 'politics as usual' must end

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Citizens have choices to continue with "politics as usual" or make a change in their leadership in the state Senate's Third District, says Charlie Mattioli.
   "The question is whether we want the same old politics and the same old view of taxes and revenues," said Mattioli. "We have politicians who say what we have is good enough; we just have to make priority, we have to make cuts but they don't give you any specifics."
   A K-12 public school teacher for more than 30 years, Mattioli, 56, of Elizabethton, is running as an Independent candidate for the Third District state senate seat representing Washington and Carter counties.
   He stated that he is the only Third District candidate with a platform on the economy, environment and a tax reform. The centerpiece of Mattioli's campaign is tax reform -- beginning with a four percent flat tax on income.
   "The flat tax is the closest to the Biblical notion of tithing or any tax system we have," said Mattioli. "Why doesn't Rusty Crowe and Richard Gabriel have an articulate coherent platform that people can evaluate and compare to other people?"
   His platform also includes the removal of the state sales tax on food, clothing, nonprescription drugs. He also supported a reduction of the state sales tax to 2.75 percent on other items and the abolition of the "Hall income tax".
   Tax reform legislation would have to require a 60 percent "super majority" to approve legislation dealing with future tax changes, Mattioli said.
   The "Cooper plan" passed by the legislature in July raised the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and added additional sales taxes on big-ticket purchase items.
   A move Mattioli criticized for heaping another burden of taxation on the low- and middle-income citizens. He expected to see budget problems return to the state in as little as two years.
   Mattioli said Tennesseans ranked in the lowest 20 percent of income-earning were currently paying 10 percent of their incomes to the state while the wealthiest 20 percent of Tennesseans paid only 2 percent of their total earnings in taxes.
   "Local governments derive most of their taxes from property taxes," he said. "When you have the sales tax as high as it is, there is no room to add any more taxes on your citizens."
   He sid he advocated a reduction in state taxes for the majority of Tennesseans and keep over $700 million in Tennessee through deductions on federal income tax returns. He also derided candidates and elected officials who repeated the mantra of "we have to run government like a business."
   "What business would let $750 million slip through our hands because we can't deduct sales tax from our returns but we could if that was collected in income tax?" Mattioli asked.
   He cited a Tennessee Department of Revenue report that found Carter County residents would pay $3.5 million in more sales and business taxes this year over last year.
   While not endorsing either candidate, Mattioli said he did not have "a lot of faith" in the tax reform debate in the next four years.
   "We have two gubernatorial candidates who have come out and said 'no, we don't need to raise taxes on that', but then they stop after that," he said. "They don't say what the options are."
   "Every gubernatorial candidate talks about what they're going to do for schools. My question is 'how are you going to do that without money?'"
   He also took the Republican and Democratic nominees to task for running on plans to reform and reduce TennCare, the state's much-maligned Medicaid system.
   "There is no way to save $120 million in TennCare without removing large amounts of people who are on the program because they can't get insurance any other way," he said. "I think reform is important but I think promises like that and scapegoating are the wrong way to get things."
   Another major Mattioli beef was with many state politicians who advocated state budget cuts or setting priorities but did not get specific about what state expenditures could be reduced.
   "How do you tell when a politician's saying nothing? His lips are moving," said Mattioli, paraphrasing an adage of political humor. "They like to say 'I come from humble beginnings', but they have little empathy for the unfairness of the tax structure."
   He pointed out that the state university higher education has been funded at 85 percent for the past three years while student tuition has jumped 49 percent in the last two years.
   "It's such a paltry amount we have to battle with sixteen southeast states in increase we've given to assistant professors at two-year institutions we are at the bottom.
   "In 2010, we are going to have the highest increase in percentage of students eligible of age to go to college," he said. "We're not ready for it."
   Mattioli said his top priority was to get to 100 percent funding for higher education and increase support to technical schools to better train displaced workers and new
   He also said he was skeptical about how a state lottery would assist state funding if citizens voted to lift the Constitutional ban of lotteries on Nov. 5.
   "It's not an answer to our revenue issues," said Mattioli of the lottery.
   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 10 years ago.
   Mattioli is something of an anomaly. He is a member of the Sierra Club environmental organization and the National Rifle Association.
   He advocated the environmental issues such as reducing air pollution, citing the region's dangerous ozone levels, atmosphere particulants and acid rain.
   "We have to be careful that we don't become a people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing," he said.