State Officials Visit TTU for Tax Reform Discussion

As several pro-tax reform groups rallied on the state Capitol steps yesterday, some of the state's key economic officials visited Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, talking tax reform and answering questions on the issue.

TTU President Angelo Volpe was among those who spoke at the rally in Nashville yesterday. He joined Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Smith and Gov. Don Sundquist in voicing the need for change.

The local visit with students, faculty and staff was part of a state-wide series of visits to drum up discussions about Sundquist's proposed tax reform plan and the special legislative session that kicked off this week to consider it.

"The issue is not about higher taxes," said Alex Fischer, deputy commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Economic and Community Development. "We as individuals pay less tax in Tennessee per capita at the state level than any other state in the country. But we're also at the bottom in spending on government services."

Fischer often spoke bluntly about problems of trust in government spending and the need for looking inside statistics to make informed, rational decisions on the issue. His visit, along with assistant commissioner Paul Latture III, was coordinated by the pro-tax reform group Citizens for Fair Taxes.

Decrying the fact that Tennessee leads the rate of high school seniors who don't graduate each year, Fischer predicted a bleak future for the state if tax reform isn't enacted soon.

"It seems to be the more prevailing attitude that it's okay for Tennessee to be 50th in high school education in the country," Fischer said. "It troubles me, and it troubles the governor, that it's acceptable to anyone that we be last in anything - especially education," he said.

Answering questions about how the governor's proposal will specifically affect higher education, including universities like Tennessee Tech, Fischer listed benefits most public institutions have not seen in years.

"The first benefit to higher education would be fully funding the formula used to allocate state resources," he said. "The formula was only funded at around 90 percent this year. Colleges and universities had to raise tuition to ease part of that burden."

He also suggested the plan could infuse between $100 to $200 million in additional investments to higher education.