Kingsport Times News. April 25, 2021.

Editorial: Give tax relief to those who need it most

Tennessee continues to be battered by the pandemic, ranking 13th in the nation at mid-month in total cases, 14th in new infections, and 15th in total deaths. Yet the state has done well economically with hundreds of millions of dollars in unexpected revenue, never mind continued infusions of cash from the federal government’s money tree.

There’s so much money floating around the halls of state government in Nashville that Gov. Bill Lee is again suggesting the state give some of it back. As he did last year, Lee has proposed a $100 million, two-week sales tax holiday, $25 million of which would be saved on groceries and $75 million on restaurants and bar taxes.

All well and good. But can the state do more? What would it cost to dispense with sales taxes some given weekend on all retail purchases? What a shot in the arm that would be to local economies.

As might be expected, the state’s largest union is holding its hand out for a piece of this pie. “With the state bringing in record surplus month after month, there is no excuse to not make significant increases to public education funding,” said Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown. “The governor’s budget amendment is woefully short on meaningful K-12 investment.”

We think there’s a very good excuse. Better that surplus government revenue be returned from whence it came. Has the TEA made a case to give teachers more money? Brown is not talking about schools after all. The state doesn’t build schools.

When the governor’s proposed sales tax holidays would occur has not yet been determined. The measure must still clear the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which won’t be a problem.

Lee successfully advanced a similar sales tax holiday last year, which included an extra weekend of tax-free, back-to-school shopping and a week of tax-free dining at restaurants. But even the back-to-school tax savings had restrictions on what qualified for tax relief.

“I would say that maybe it’s an imperfect logic, but the basic philosophy was how can we put the most funds back into the hands of Tennesseans as possible?” said Commissioner of Finance and Administration Butch Eley.

Easy. Expand the tax holiday. Lee is also proposing cutting the state’s annual $400 professional privilege tax to $300. The fee applies to agents, broker-dealers, investment advisers, osteopathic physicians and physicians. The governor had proposed early in 2020 to cut the tax in half, which would have cost the state $40 million. However, he ultimately scrapped that idea amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

This proposal would save doctors and brokers some $17 million, but most folks in those occupations are doing quite well, and we dare say that if you asked them, they’d prefer that money went to their patients/customers.

As our state representatives explore the governor’s suggestions, let’s hope they can find ways to add even more tax relief for those who need it most.

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Johnson City Press. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: Let’s show our hospitality to prospective residents

Last week, we learned from Press Staff Writer David Floyd about a program from local business officials to bring new residents to Johnson City.

City commissioners approved the first third of $300,000 for a program intended to market the area to remote workers living elsewhere who may be considering relocation. The full program includes cash incentives up to $5,000 for those who become new residents.

The work-from-home trend accelerated by the yearlong coronavirus pandemic has freed up thousands of office employees to work anywhere with a suitable internet connection. Early evidence suggests those newly untethered professionals may prefer a change in scenery, perhaps eschewing metropolises for the scenery and low cost of living available in more rural areas.

Several cities and states were quick to offer move-in bonuses and incentives in hopes of scooping up some of these remote workers and their higher-than-median household incomes.

Chattanooga, for example, was ahead of the curve. Nine years ago, its GeekMove program offered relocating computer developers $1,250 in moving expense reimbursements and $10,000 forgivable mortgages for qualifying applicants.

We hope Johnson City’s relocation incentive program is successful. We’ve long preached the benefits to the community of bringing in new residents and new types of jobs.

We want new people to come here and discover the treasure we’ve enjoyed all along.

We do wonder, however, if the money pledged for this program might be spent elsewhere to better serve the community.

Johnson City’s government has long struggled with finding the right ways to help residents suffering from homelessness and residential security.

Years ago, when city commissioners enacted the punitive ban on camping on public property, leaders assured those opposing it that the measure was simply the stick portion of a carrot-and-stick approach to lifting people out of homelessness. An effective carrot has yet to materialize.

It seems that a $5,000 grant would have a much greater effect on the life of someone caught in the cruel cycle of poverty than it would for the person making $80,000 a year the local moving bonus targets.

While they’re out there chasing down potential new residents, let’s give those marketing our community some talking points that really set Johnson City apart. Let’s show them how gracious and hospitable we can be to all members of our community.

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Cookeville Herald-Citizen. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: Free speech doesn’t excuse bad behavior

Three Tennessee Tech faculty members made national headlines this week with a story that began in February at a school board meeting in which one nursing faculty member, A.J. Donadio, expressed his pleasure that the board members declined to pursue any action to remove the Algood Middle School mascot, the Redskins. Tech faculty member Julia Gruber, who had advocated for the mascot removal, took exception to that display.

Gruber and another faculty member, Andrew Smith, put up fliers in a couple of buildings on Tech’s campus calling Donadio a racist and expressing criticism of the Turning Point USA group of which Donadio serves as faculty advisor.

The fliers were quickly brought to Donadio’s attention, (as in that day) and he filed a report with university police, labeling Gruber and Smith’s actions as “harassment.” That prompted an investigation into whether Gruber and Smith had violated Tech policy by putting up the fliers. Tech Planning and Finance Vice President Claire Stinson determined that they had and would be subject to disciplinary action and/or termination.

We would argue that while it’s certainly not a good idea to post critical fliers about a colleague, doing so is not a fireable offense. However, we do believe some disciplinary action is warranted to discourage this kind of juvenile behavior. We expect better from those teaching young people.

Donadio, Gruber and Smith are all outspoken and now well-known members of our community. They’ve all handed out and been subject to much criticism, and while we don’t believe fliers are the best way to illustrate your feelings on any subject, we do believe in free speech, and we do support discussing different opinions in a public forum in a non-violent way.

Putting up a few fliers doesn’t qualify as harassment, and it doesn’t warrant a call to police. We’ve written about cases of real harassment within the pages of this newspaper that haven’t received this kind of media attention. It’s a dispute between two sides who should have gone about their disagreement differently, and we hope in the future, they will.

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