State-of-the-state; trimming grocery taxes, more time for crime - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

State-of-the-state; trimming grocery taxes, more time for crime

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- With help from two-year-old daughter, Claire, Heather Wilson will spend just shy of $150 at the Signal Mountain Bi-Lo Monday.

That's a typical week's grocery bill for their family of five

"Just the entire bill is what I'm focused on, and the fact that groceries have gotten so expensive," Wilson laments.

Tennessee sales tax accounts for five-and-one-half percent of that total. But Governor Bill Haslam wants to cut the rate to five percent over several years. The first trim, two-tenths of a percent, would cost Tennessee about $18 million dollars a year.

"Every penny counts," WIlson says "I'm couponing as well, so any time I can get money off is gonna help."

The typical savings works out to about 75 cents per week.

"That's not significant at all," retiree Jack Williams says. Williams and his wife Edna spend part of their year in Florida, which has no sales tax on groceries.

"You notice the tax, but what are you gonna do," Edna Williams says. "You've gotta eat."

Figuratively speaking, a groceries tax is not the only spending item that could involve lots of 'bread.'

"I wouldn't call it getting half a loaf," says Boyd Patterson, co-director of Chattanooga's task force to combat gangs. "I would say that its more than we have now."

Patterson is referring to Gov. Haslam's proposals to add prison time for those convicted of violent crimes. His measures, aimed at gang members and persistent felony offenders, were projected to add $60 million dollars to Tennessee's cost for prosecution and incarceration. Scaled back, those proposals still could carry a $6 million yearly price tag.

"The Governor's bill is good," Patterson says. "What we're talking about with our legislation is something that works in conjunction with it."

Chattanooga's proposals would toughen Tennessee's RICO (Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organizations) laws to create tougher penalties for gang members who commit, or aid in the commission of, violent crimes. Simply being a gang member could constitute a crime in itself.

What Patterson hasn't guesstimated, is how many more tax dollars this plan would cost.

"As for the likelihood of it passing , that's something for the people who pass the budgets to decide," he says.

Budget forecasters estimate that the recovering economy could bring in $565 million more in revenue for the fiscal year. Those dollars won't have a long wait for somebody to lay claim to them.

Governor Haslam has indicated he wishes to replenish Tennessee's Rainy-Day Fund; the contingency fund that covers budget emergencies and serves as 'insurance' to the state's credit rating for borrowing money or selling bonds to pay for long-term structural enhancements or infrastructure improvements.

"Don't use the money in some kind of bureaucracy," Edna Williams says. "Get it out in the streets. Get somebody some help where it can do some good."

The Williams would prefer Tennessee cut its groceries tax more quickly and deeply.

"But if we're gonna spend some money, I think it needs to be putting more police forces out there, dealing with the gangs," Jack Williams says.

Wilson could make a case for spending in a number of areas.

"I have three kids in the public school system, I see the issues that they're dealing with," she says. "Cities, counties, neighborhoods, they all could use something."

Gov. Haslam's proposals for education include giving school districts more flexibility in teacher pay. He also would lift many of the caps that govern class sizes.

Critics suggest that his proposals to give the Executive Branch more 'flexibility' in state hiring would gut civil service protections for worker's jobs; returning the Volunteer State to a de facto patronage system.

The Governor laid out a framework for his budget and reform proposals in his State-of-The-State Address Monday evening.

Wilson is expecting Gov. Haslam, and state lawmakers, to practice due diligence.

"I personally don't know what the best way to spend would be,"she says.

"But that's what they get paid for, right?"

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