OFF TO THE RACES! (Part 1)
An Evening with TN Gubernatorial Candidate Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN 3rd)
By George Scoville
Ken Marrero, author of the Blue Collar Muse blog, founder of The Tennessee ConserVOLiance, and Regional Director for the national DontGo and Tax Day Tea Party Movements, recently hosted Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN 3rd) for a blogger outreach/Q&A forum in Brentwood. Mr. Wamp has served as a Member of the US House of Representatives since 1994, when Republicans took over both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections following former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and first two years in office. Mr. Wamp recently announced his primary bid for the GOP nomination in Tennessee’s upcoming 2010 gubernatorial race. The forum provided Mr. Wamp a chance to tell those in attendance a little bit about himself and his platform, as well as an opportunity for bloggers to ask questions on the record, with no questions barred.
Wamp, a Tennessee good ole boy, whose family has lived in Tennessee since the mid-19th century, touted his 100% conservative voting record on five Constitutional issues in the US House of Representatives: life, marriage, gun rights, illegal immigration, and taxes. He also focused his platform talk on building Tennessee’s economy by providing tax incentives to businesses looking to relocate corporate headquarters – a policy move which he hopes will encourage companies across several sectors of industry to provide Tennesseans with jobs. While the advent of the Saturn and Nissan plants in Middle Tennessee in the mid-1980’s to mid-90’s provided many jobs for Detroit autoworkers who have since transplanted, Wamp remains committed to creating opportunities for employees in other industries.
The Right Aisle Review asked whether Mr. Wamp would support a moratorium on state income tax for wage and salary earners if elected Governor – although it might be unlikely after a Democratic coup in the State House installed new Speaker Kent Williams as head of the chamber’s agenda. “Absolutely,” Wamp said. The room swelled with sighs of relief and soft applause. Tennessee currently collects income tax revenues on dividend and interest earnings only.
Many Tennesseans might worry, though, that without finding new ways for the government to generate revenues, like a corporate tax structure or progressive income tax, that many Tennesseans – especially those citizens adversely impacted in the extreme by the current global economic crisis – might fall through the cracks and lose out on services which might benefit them. Wamp impressed the attending crowd with his reply: “TennCare expenditures currently reflect $12 billion of a total budget of $28 billion in Tennessee – that’s almost half of our state’s budget going to fund a broken healthcare system. We have got to find a way to rein in this kind of spending, so that other programs might flourish. As Governor, I intend to reform that system.”
While the TennCare system was designed to shift financial burdens away from the state to the federal government, and provides benefits for just over a million Tennesseans, the cost and scope of the program has ballooned over time. Perhaps we should blame managed care organizations who failed to pay doctors on time or respond to patient needs; perhaps we should blame insurance companies who deemed applicants “uninsurable” due to pre-existing conditions, and referred them to TennCare; perhaps we should blame small businesses who told their employees to enroll in TennCare as opposed to paying for group policies for their employees; perhaps we should blame former Governor Don Sundquist, whose administration spent more time and energy masking TennCare‘s failures than it did fixing the problems.
For more information on TennCare‘s troubles, click here.
Another problem – perhaps the biggest problem TennCare faces today – has contributed to the rising cost of the program: transient residency. It takes only six months to establish residency in Tennessee, so it should be no surprise that citizens in neighboring states have relocated to Tennessee since the program’s launch to take advantage of its benefits before moving back to their state of origin (and retaining those benefits). Regardless of where we can best mitigate blame for the program’s failures, fiscal conservatives applauded Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen – who contracted a private consulting firm to assess the health (no pun intended) of the program – for pronouncing TennCare to be an abysmal failure of public policy in Tennessee.
The federal government recently rolled out a pilot program called E-verify, a secure electronic database which federal contractors and subcontractors use to verify the legal immigration status of their prospective employees. The pilot period is set to expire at the end of the current fiscal year, but the initiative has received so much bipartisan support in the US Congress that it will likely become law after reauthorization this summer. Wamp, who is a “big supporter of E-verify,” sees the utility – from both metrics and fiscal perspectives – hinted at the intention to use a program similar to E-verify on the state level. This no doubt will drive privacy and human rights groups batty, and even some fiscal conservatives might cringe at projected costs of such an infrastructure build-out.
But when approaching the issue with the knowledge of an inflated state budget, the program could have another application. It seems almost intuitive that a program akin to E-verify could help ameliorate the rising cost of TennCare. A mandate requiring enrollees to become Tennessee citizens for, say, 1-2 years before becoming eligible for the program, coupled with the technology to verify their state citizenship – which may include production of utility bills, employment verification, etc. – has two benefits: first, it would help dissuade transient residents from thinking that moving to Tennessee for TennCare is a good idea, and second, 1-2 years provides adequate time for citizens from other states to assimilate themselves into Tennessee communities and local economies, thus bolstering the productive strength of our state.
The only problems Mr. Wamp would have to solve, if elected Governor, and if he used an E-verify-like program to rein in TennCare costs, would be the status of current enrollees who would not be eligible under a new mandate, the battle with privacy rights groups which would undoubtedly ensue – as they do every time a government entity tries to collect PII (personally identifiable information) from its constituents – and address the concern of the cost of a state-wide technological build-out to provide the electronic infrastructure to keep such a program viable. In the long run, though, as constant innovation keeps the cost of technology low, a program like E-verify could save Tennessee taxpayers millions – even billions?
George Scoville is a senior Philosophy and Political Science double major.