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Political Play of the Week

Play of the Week:A familiar political cry

Tax protesters demonstrate in front of state Capitol building in Tennessee.
Tax protesters demonstrate in front of state Capitol building in Tennessee.  

By Bill Schneider
CNN Sr. Political Analyst

(CNN) -- The United States was founded on a tax revolt. That tradition is alive and well, right here, in this week's political Play of the Week.

Tennessee's four-year revenue crisis came to a head with a July 1 budget deadline, an $800 million deficit and stalemate in the state Legislature. Lawmakers rejected a plan that mostly would have raised business taxes, and it rejected another plan that would have slashed state spending.

What about a state income tax?

Tennessee is one of only nine states without one. Both the Republican governor, Don Sundquist, and the Democratic House speaker, Jimmy Naifeh, support an income tax.

Enter the people. For days, anti-tax protesters, stirred up by the threat of an income tax, surrounded the state Capitol in Nashville with a wall of noise.

What to do?

Lt. Gov. John Wilder responded to the protests by telling demonstrators, "I'm not gonna shut the state down, you hear me? I'm not gonna shut the state down."

But they did -- for three days.

Twenty-two thousand state workers were workers furloughed, motor vehicle bureaus shut down, university classes were canceled and highway rest stops were closed, forcing travelers to head for the trees.

Seventy percent of Tennessee voters said the problem was overspending by government, not a revenue shortage, according to a Mason-Dixon poll.

So, no income tax. "At the end of the day, we didn't have the votes to get it passed," Naifeh said.

Now what?

Wednesday night, with their backs to the wall, Tennessee House leaders rounded up exactly 50 votes needed to raise the state sales tax. The government can re-open. Hooray!

Sort of. Tennessee ends up with one of the highest sales taxes in the country, but no income tax.

"We are balancing the budget again on the backs of poor people," said state Rep. Henri Brooks.

For a hardy band of tax protesters, stopping the dreaded income tax was a victory. And the political Play of the Week.

The American colonists said: Taxation without representation is tyranny. But is taxation with representation political suicide?

We'll see what happens on August 1 -- Tennessee's primary day.




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