Two Republican candidates for governor, Bill Haslam and Ron Ramsey, ruled out a sales tax increase again Thursday and contended at the same time that they couldn’t say which state services they would reduce or eliminate.
In separate interviews with reporters at the Capitol, Haslam and Ramsey acknowledged the next governor will have to cut programs barring a remarkable economic turnaround. But they said it’s impossible to tell how they would shrink the government until they assume the governor’s office.
“When I’m governor, I will look at programs that have been there for years and years,” said Ramsey, the Senate speaker. “I haven’t had the opportunity of doing that because that’s not what the legislative branch does. … There will be some cuts to be made, and we’ll make that decision when the time comes. In the state of Tennessee, we balance our budget one year at a time. … You don’t do hypotheticals that are three years down the road when you can’t project what’s going on in the economy. I’m not trying to be evasive. I’m being factual.
Haslam, who is Knoxville’s mayor, said he needs to perform a “top-to-bottom review” of state government before he can know how he would cut services.
“When I came in as mayor, it wasn’t like we said, ‘Oh we’re going to go cut out this big program.’ It wasn’t 10 big cuts, it was a thousand little ones," he said. "If there was an easy cut to be made in state government, it would have already been made. It was hard to know going in before I got in there what those cuts would be. I don’t think that’s misleading at all. You don’t know until you get into office and have a chance to evaluate. That’s why you come in and you do a top-to-bottom review.”
Also Thursday, Ramsey took a shot at Haslam for claiming in the first TV ad of the governor’s race that Knoxville’s property tax rate is the lowest in 50 years. The ad doesn’t mention that Haslam raised property taxes by 15 percent. Haslam said that, strictly speaking, the ad is accurate.
“Here’s the reality,” he told reporters. “Right now as a percentage of the value of your home, you’re paying less in Knoxville than you have in over 50 years.”
But, Ramsey said, “The property taxes in Knoxville, he did raise them the second year in office, and the reason he can say they’re the lowest in several years is the fact that they went through a reappraisal, and when you go through a reappraisal, you lower the rate. … The tax rate is lower, but taxes are higher than they were when he went into office.”