Rochelle: No income tax

June 1, 2006 – Formally announcing his bid to return to Legislative Plaza, former State Senate speaker pro tempore Robert Rochelle pledged Wednesday to never again support a state income tax without first securing the approval of Tennessee voters. "I went and talked to folks," Rochelle said. ...
Jun 7, 2006

June 1, 2006 – Formally announcing his bid to return to Legislative Plaza, former State Senate speaker pro tempore Robert Rochelle pledged Wednesday to never again support a state income tax without first securing the approval of Tennessee voters.
"I went and talked to folks," Rochelle said. "I've listened to what people had to say. I sensed real quickly that they wanted to have a voice in this decision, and so, as we talked with folks and listened to folks we came upon … the American way – that's to let the people have a voice."
In 2002, before ultimately choosing not to seek re-election to the State Senate's District 17 post, Rochelle was among the chief supporters of a plan to shore up the state's finances with implementing a statewide income tax.
The Lebanon attorney has said recently he expected his past endorsement of the income tax to become a hot-button issue in the race for the District 17 seat. On Wednesday, however, Rochelle said those who continue to focus on the issue are fighting "yesterday's battles."
"Four years ago in the middle of a crisis, I felt we had to act," he said. "But times have changed. The crisis has passed. When times change, public officials should change with them. Therefore, I am today committing to the people of the 17th District that, as their senator, I will vote against an income tax that is not approved by a vote of the people. Put very simply – no vote, no tax."
A Rochelle for State Senate campaign sign unveiled at Wednesday's press conference carried the same four-word slogan, and though Rochelle vowed to challenge any income tax legislation without a referendum, he declined to speak to his personal thoughts on the controversial tax.
"It's a dead issue … It's not an issue that's going to be coming up in the legislature," he said.
State Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said he was "happy" Rochelle had "put the income tax behind him" Wednesday.
"Bob Rochelle was one of the most outstanding legislators … He's got a mind that is like a steel trap," Haynes said, adding Rochelle will receive the endorsement of the Senate Democratic Caucus. "… He's very capable and knows the legislature like the back of his hand."
While Rochelle must first claim a victory over newcomer Aubrey Givens in the county's Aug. 3 Democratic primary (see related story), many of his comments were directed at incumbent District 17 State Sen. Mae Beavers.
Rochelle contended Beavers' election was a direct result of the income tax debate.
"The income tax debate resulted in the election of some sub-par, one-issue candidates who have shown no ability to get things done for our community," Rochelle said. "They have no answers, no courage, no solutions and will say whatever it takes to stay in office."
Beavers, he continued, was the only state senator to vote against Gov. Phil Bredesen's new Cover Tennessee health care program. He added the incumbent senator voted against the state budget and opposed increasing the minimum wage.
"When the incumbent senator voted against the Cover Tennessee program, I felt like that indicated that she was completely out of touch with the citizens of the 17th District," Rochelle said.
Beavers was quick to challenge Rochelle's assertions, though the Mt. Juliet Republican conceded she was "surprised" he had "come out swinging" during Wednesday's press conference.
"I was the first one to propose the uninsured risk pool in January, even before the governor proposed, because that was an issue for those people who had been thrown off of TennCare," Beavers said. " … So, I feel like I was on top of addressing that issue."
Ultimately, Beavers added, she voted against the Cover Tennessee initiative because she felt the plan was insufficient.
"They're representing that (Cover Tennessee) is going to cost people $50 a month, but that's for a healthy person," she said. "I'm not sure healthy people will actually choose to get on that plan. Everybody else who has any health problems will be rated. … I think people think that's a full-blown insurance plan, and it's not. It's not going to do people much good, and I didn't want it to turn into another out-of-control healthcare program."
As for her vote against the state's recently approved $26 million budget, Beavers said she opposed the budget because it did not provide a large enough tax break for Tennesseans.
The minimum wage increase was sent to the Senate's judiciary committee and was not voted on by the full Senate, she added.
"All of the lies that Bob Rochelle is going to tell about me is nothing compared to the truth we're going to tell about him," Beavers said.
Despite Rochelle's public pledge to oppose a state income tax, the incumbent state senator said she believes the issue will continue to overshadow his campaign.
"I understand he's voted nine times for a state income tax," the incumbent state senator said. "He didn't listen to the people in 2002 when they stormed the Capitol and were beating on the doors. If he wouldn't listen to that, I wonder why people think he would listen now."
Bill Fletcher, spokesperson for Rochelle's campaign, responded to Beavers' comments on the income tax Wednesday afternoon.
"We fully expect her to continue to live in the past because that's all she's got. She's got no vision for the future," Fletcher said.
Staff Writer Jason Cox contributed to this article.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at brian.harville@lebanondemocrat.com.

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