Republican gubernatorial hopeful Zach Wamp says two of his three GOP rivals have backed tax increases. The record shows:
* Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam in 2004 proposed and City Council members approved a 35-cent increase in local property taxes, a 13 percent increase.
* Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, voted in 2002 for a $1 billion sales tax increase, the largest in state history. This year, he voted for measures, including a Bredesen administration bill, that increased state revenues by $57 million.
Sources: Knoxville mayor's speech, Knoxville News-Sentinel, Knoxville Metro Pulse, Senate roll call records, The Associated Press
NASHVILLE -- Republican gubernatorial hopeful Zach Wamp says two of his GOP rivals must tell primary voters why they supported or voted for tax hikes in their current positions.
"They'll have to defend their record of increasing taxes," the Chattanooga congressman said of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who is the Senate's speaker.
The remarks by U.S. Rep. Wamp, R-Tenn., came recently during a wide-ranging interview about recession-generated budget challenges facing the next governor. He said he will not raise taxes if elected governor, and that voters are looking for "austere leadership" when it comes to spending.
"Be wary of people who've never had any problem paying their own taxes because they might raise yours," Rep. Wamp said. "And that certainly speaks to the mayor of Knoxville. And then, the lieutenant governor will have to defend his record on raising taxes, also."
Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons also is running for the GOP nomination but was not mentioned by Rep. Wamp when it came to taxes.
Mr. Haslam, a member of the family that created the Pilot Travel Centers, is independently wealthy.
Ramsey spokesman Brad Todd said by e-mail that Rep. Wamp "knows that Ron Ramsey has been a leader in fighting for low taxes, spending restraint and balanced budgets in Tennessee. That's the truth and suggesting otherwise is not credible."
In 2002, Mr. Ramsey voted for a $1 billion tax increase, the largest in state history, including a boost to the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. It was viewed as an alternative for opponents to then-Republican Gov. Don Sundquist's push for a state income tax.
This year, Senate roll call records show, Lt. Gov. Ramsey voted, among other bills, for Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen's "technical corrections" bill, which resulted in an effective net revenue increase of $57 million. About $25 million of that resulted from closing off what the governor called a tax "loophole" for certain family-owned businesses involved in commercial real estate.
"Ron's record is clear," Mr. Todd noted. "He's been one of the most effective advocates in stopping a state income tax in Tennessee and in balancing our budget by keeping spending under control."
In April 2004, during his first year as Knoxville's mayor, Mr. Haslam delivered a speech saying he inherited a $10 million shortfall from his predecessor, Victor Ashe, and a 35 cent property tax hike was needed. The proposal passed, according to Knoxville news accounts.
In an e-mail statement, Haslam spokesman Jeremy Harrell said "during Bill Haslam's term as mayor, he has tripled the rainy day fun, lowered the city's debt by 25 percent, balanced six consecutive city budgets, and reduced the size of government. Today, Knoxville's tax rate is the lowest it has been in 40 years. That's a record we're proud to run on."
In an interview last week, Mr. Haslam said the next governor will face budgetary challenges but will not be raising taxes, which will prompt a close look at expenditures. The mayor said that's what he did in Knoxville, but he did not mention the tax increase.
Ben Cunningham with Tennessee Tax Revolt, a state tax watchdog group, said Mr. Haslam did propose the tax increase while Lt. Gov. Ramsey "voted for the tax increases in this last session."
But looking at Rep. Wamp, Mr. Cunningham said, "in general, I would say that Mr. Wamp certainly doesn't have a record on taxes or spending that would indicate he would have any differential advantage in the governor's race.
"Certainly, many of Wamp's votes in the Congress have been to increase spending. He has voted for earmarks in the past," Mr. Cunningham said. "As a matter of fact, very recently, he called on (President) Obama to spend more in the stimulus package than Obama had proposed."
Mr. Cunningham noted that Mr. Gibbons has not had to deal with tax issues.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...