school books, illustration of Tennessee state outlines, and a pile of dollar bills

Should Tennessee’s Politicians Cut Taxes or ‘Buy’ Some Freedom?

The board that estimates the state’s revenue for the next fiscal year recently estimated that legislators may have as much as $878 million in new recurring revenue to spend or give back to taxpayers through various tax cuts. But should our state politicians think about “buying” some freedom with that money?

Having been in the Legislature, I know how politically popular it is to cut taxes. But, to be honest, Tennessee’s taxes are not that high compared to other states. So, when I read of the revenue surplus, I asked myself if there was anything that could be done with that increased revenue that might militate against just lowering our tax burden even more.

Before you think I’ve lost my conservative mind, think for a moment what value you might place on freeing our state from control by the federal government and the mandates and regulations that come with its money.

Think for a moment about how much educators complain about No Child Left Behind and all the regulations that are imposed on them by the federal Department of Education, a department President Reagan wanted to abolish and even President-elect Trump has said should go.

Think for a moment about the so-called “bathroom bill” last year and the edict that came from the federal government that put at risk federal K-12 funding of $1,114,013,000 if we had the audacity to designate children’s bathrooms and locker room usage based on biological sex.

What if Tennessee had the money to tell the federal government to take a hike? We don’t care what rules and regulations you have for our K-12 schools. We don’t want your mandates, and we now don’t have to have your money.

I understand that $900 million in new revenue won’t replace $1.1 billion in federal funding, but let’s delve a little deeper.

A Heritage Foundation study in 2007 estimated that complying with federal mandates accounts for 41 percent of the administrative compliance burden for the states. If that number is accurate and has remained fairly constant (and there’s not reason to believe administrative compliance costs have gone down), then even a 35-percent reduction in administrative cost could make up the $200 million difference.

Even if the amount of saved administrative costs doesn’t come up to the full $200 million, we have to keep in mind that $200 million is only 4 percent of the total amount of state tax dollars we spend on education.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the information that would allow me to nail all these numbers down, but is it not worth some consideration? Is it not worth our legislators asking for the numbers?

Isn’t it worth asking education bureaucrats if they really hate the federal government control of their classrooms enough to reduce the size of the central office? Who knows? If nothing else, we might find out if the size of the central office is more important than the classroom.

Sure, I’d like to see the sales tax rate drop. And I understand the federal government will take the money it would have given to us and just give it to someone else; it won’t cut its own tax burden or borrow less money to cover its deficits just because Tennessee refuses its money.

I guess I just wanted to ask if freedom from federal government control over the education of our children was worth anything to anybody.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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