Both candidates for the 22nd District state representative seat categorically oppose a state income tax.
That was one of the issues discussed between Dan Howell and J. Adam Lowe during a debate broadcast this morning on WOOP-FM.
Both candidates say they support the recent move by the Tennessee General Assembly in passage of a law which requires a referendum by residents in a proposed annexation by a municipality.
“It’s a good law,” Howell said.
He referred to a friend whose property was annexed by Chattanooga which caused his taxes to go up $1,200.
“All he got in return was garbage pickup,” Howell said. “I get garbage pickup here in Bradley County for $216 a year.”
He said Tennessee was only one of three states that allowed forced annexations.
“We’re now with the majority in the United States that says people who are impacted by an increase in taxes by annexation at least have a voice. They can vote on it,” he said.
Lowe said cities annex “because it makes good financial sense.”
“It means they recoup more funds to their coffers than they will expend by a great degree,” he said. “Anybody who tells you otherwise, that’s just not good business sense. But, there’s not a lot of good business sense in government.”
He agreed it was a good law which “empowers people and goes back to a conservative principle of allowing people to decide whether or not they want to be part of something.”
Both candidates gave their opinions on a state budget that is facing a $250 million shortfall.
Lowe said Gov. Bill Haslam has “stayed with a basic priority, which is in our [state] Constitution, which is the idea to balance the budget.”
“Most of the chaos we see in government federally comes from the fact that we do not require a balanced budget on the federal level,” Lowe said.
He said there are two ways to balance a budget: cut expenses or expand revenue.
“On the cutting side, Governor Haslam has chosen some very unpopular things with cutting teacher pay,” he said. “At the same time, he chose to maintain some new programs, and has gotten some criticism for that.”
He said new initiatives should be taken on “when they make good financial sense and in the right window of time when you have the excess to do them.”
Lowe said the decrease in taxes, especially the food tax, “has been very powerful in the state.”
“It was a very brave gesture to go ahead and reduce revenue, knowing you would still have cuts,” he said.
He said the governor’s confidence has been that if business and corporations are empowered, “we will see growth in Tennessee and we ... can fund [state needs] out of that.”
Howell said he was glad a balanced budget was in the state Constitution, and budgeting comes down to setting priorities.
“Will our priorities be roads? Will it be schools, which would be one of my priorities? Will it be law enforcement, which has to be on the list? Will it be infrastructure, and I’ve talked to many people who say they are concerned about the infrastructure. So, we have a lot of things to spend our money on,” Howell said. “The pie is only so big and only stretches so far.”
He said the state depends greatly on the sales tax.
“We had a $150 million shortfall in sales tax in 2013. That caused a $300 million swing and that’s why the teachers didn’t get a pay raise.”
He said the budget will be most vulnerable in the health care area.
“We have 175,000 uninsured, low-income people in Tennessee which is about 3.2 percent of our population and it is something that is going to have to be addressed,” Howell said. “The price tag there is going to be $300 million.
“We have a real challenge, and there is the shortfall in the franchise and excise tax last year to the tune of about $300 million. So, we have some great challenges and we have to do some things [such as] reducing — not eliminating — the excise and franchise taxes, and retaining these companies in Tennessee, because they are leaving.”
Both candidates say they will stick to their core principals in the Legislature if elected, but understand the need to be able to work with members across the aisle.
“I won’t compromise my principles, such as right to life,” Howell said. “Those are principles I live by.”
He said on subjects such as the excise tax “that’s a negotiated compromise, and that’s not a dirty word.”
“The fact is we are a two-party system and we have to reach an agreement of some kind and it often takes compromise,” Howell said.
He referred to the relationship between Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill.
“They could argue and really debate an issue, but at the end of the day they were friends. They learned how to be friends and debate and compromise when compromise was necessary,” Howell said. “They got a lot done.”
Lowe said compromise is “only acceptable when it improves the condition.”
“I like the word ‘cooperation’ better, but I agree there are certain things that are uncompromising — the right to life is one of them,” Lowe said. “There is the right to bear arms. These are rights and they are labeled as rights. Despite the change in culture, how people’s opinions shift, they are established rights because men of wisdom knew these were uncompromising principles. At the end of the day, they are the cornerstones on which democracy is built.”
He said there are parts of government where there are gray areas.
“Reagan said it best when he said, ‘If you can take 70 percent, come and get the other 30 later,” Lowe said. “There are occasions where you fight to win the battle, but my question to anybody running for public office is, ‘In your mind, in your core, do you have the intention of winning the war?’”
Both said the Common Core standards for education should be watched.
“People on both sides feel very passionate about it,” Howell said. “What we’re not hearing is that the subject has been contentious everywhere, and not just in Tennessee.”
He said he was glad to see the state Legislature delay the testing based in Common Core for one year.
“My thought is to delay and look at it,” Howell said. “I remember ‘new math,’ which changed the way they taught math in elementary school and my son is not good in math to this day. If there is a new standard, we need to make sure we get it right. But, I do have concerns about it.”
Lowe said “delaying and looking at is just postponing the inevitable.”
“We’ve looked at standards and tinkered with standards for 30 years,” Lowe said.
He said research shows adjusting standards accounts for no influence on academic performance.
“The low-performing schools in Massachusetts which, everybody heralds as [having] a great education system, are just as low performing as the ones in Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana,” Lowe said. “We have to begin with the end in mind and what impacts the student.”
“Our excellent students lag behind because we push everybody to be the same and socially equitable in the classroom,” he said.
“We know what does improve the classroom,” Lowe said. “We know empowering a teacher to do what they do does. I see teaching as an art form. If we empower teachers and give teachers the power to adapt in their classroom and to know what standards need more attention, other than overpolicing them, handcuffing them, and honestly — treating them like robots. If we allow principals to run their schools, and allow them in partnership with parents to engage in their child’s education, we know those things do result in academic excellence.”
Their biggest disagreement was on the recent law limiting the amount of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine — a main ingredient of methamphetamine.
“You don’t treat law-abiding people like criminals,” Lowe said. “Passing laws on law-abiding people for the sake of hindering criminals has never been a productive way of passing laws.”
He said there were already measures in place to keep someone from buying a mass quantity of the drug.
“They are saying we want to charge people who have not broken the law $80 and a co-pay and three hours of waiting in a waiting room to get what they used to get off the shelf,” Lowe said.
He compared it to gun control and the rights of law-abiding citizens to legally own guns.
“The first thing you do is increase the penalties for ‘smurfing’ and attack the criminal,” Lowe said. “If you get charged with methamphetamine, the penalties need to be dire.”
Howell said before 1976 pseudoephedrine was a Schedule II controlled substance.
“Pharmaceutical companies convinced the government to make it a prescription drug and we have busted 99,000 meth labs since then,” he said.
“We need to look at what works, because it is obviously out of control,” Howell said. “Oregon and Mississippi reverted to the pre-1976 standards and Oregon meth lab busts have dropped 99 percent. So, apparently that works.”
He said the pharmaceutical companies “saw a lot of profit and they are one of the best-funded lobbyists in the country.”
Both candidates agreed that Tennessee should not have legal marijuana in any fashion and supported the change in the way state judges are chosen.
The primary is Aug. 7 and the winner will be the presumptive state representative, because there are no other candidates filed for the race.