Legislators Let Tennesseans Down This Year

June 21, 2009 9:02PM

By Ben Cunningham and Justin Owen (From The Tennessean) A white flag flies over the state Capitol when the Tennessee General Assembly is in session. When that flag flies, our freedoms and pocketbooks hang in the balance. It seems that every session of the legislature brings more outrageous laws and higher tax burdens; government power creeps upon us like high tide, as needed reform is drowned in the swell. The first session of the 106th General Assembly was worse than usual. Our tax burdens increased and our individual freedom diminished. All the while, true reform was delayed yet again in areas like property rights, economic liberty and transparency. Over the past year, several Tennesseans have had their property stripped from them by the government under the guise of eminent domain, whereby government can take property for a public use. However, this power is frequently abused by local governments, who take property and turn it over to politically connected developers. Although lawmakers had several opportunities to curb this practice, they signaled that they are more concerned with protecting their developer donors and supporters than their constituents. As a result, Tennessee still does a poor job protecting private property rights. Also squelched was the right to earn an honest living without government interference. Lawmakers consistently build walls around individuals by creating licensing schemes and increasing regulatory burdens on small businesses and entrepreneurs. Right now in Tennessee, 110 different occupations require a license. To allow Tennesseans to prosper, an Economic Civil Rights Act was proposed that would have permitted government regulation only when necessary. Unfortunately, it never made it out of committee. Especially in our current economic climate, legislators have a duty to make the American dream a reality for their constituents. Another bill that failed to pass was the Taxpayer Transparency Act, which would have required the government to put all state spending online. This act would have been the most effective measure to prevent waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Other states have saved millions of dollars from these Web sites, yet our legislature did not take the cue. Luckily for Tennessee taxpayers, Gov. Phil Bredesen unveiled a transparency Web site on his own initiative earlier this year, but it must be vastly improved before it becomes a true model of government transparency. Although this legislative session did not set the standard for property rights, individual liberty, and taxpayer protection, this dark cloud does have a silver lining. Tennesseans can now buy wine online and have it shipped to their doorstep, a move toward more consumer choice. Economic liberty can claim a small victory, as lawmakers postponed a bill to require interior designers to obtain a license, which might have put dozens of designers out of business. A bill to exempt the e-mails of lawmakers and their staff from the public records act was killed, preserving a modicum of transparency. And the legislature is now prevented from using transportation funds to pay for pet projects, protecting taxpayers from a future gas tax increase to fund road construction. All in all, the status quo prevailed this legislative session. Much work still needs to be done to decrease the size and scope of government, lower the tax burden on families and businesses, protect fundamental property rights, expand economic liberty and increase government transparency. Maybe next year, that rising tide of growing government will finally break. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. Ben Cunningham is the press spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt. Justin Owen, J.D., is the director of legal policy at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.