Roe talks Washington at Legislative Breakfast
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe discusses the federal budget during Friday’s breakfast.
The Fourth Annual Cocke County Partnership Legislative Breakfast was hosted Friday, and the audience heard from federal, state and local elected officials.
Among the 100 in attendance were the Youth Leadership classes from both Cocke County and Cosby High Schools.
First District U.S. Rep. Phil Roe told the audience that the three primary issues in Washington are the federal budget, immigration and gun control.
But virtually all of Roe’s comments addressed budgetary issues including sequestration, which calls for an across-the-board cut in spending of about 2.5 percent, or $85.4 billion. The cuts are split evenly between defense and non-defense categories.
As he held up a graphic of the federal expenditure pie, the congressman said 60 percent of the federal budget is mandated spending. Discretionary spending is 40 percent, including defense and education. He said if all of the discretionary spending were eliminated, the United States would still be operating at a deficit in the funding of mandated spending.
Roe pointed out that under sequestration, only the discretionary spending is affected. And currently, to meet expenditures, the United States is printing $85 billion a month in new money.
After visiting Afghanistan twice, the congressman says it’s time to leave that country.
“Currently the U.S. is spending a million annually for every deployed soldier, and we don’t have utility water to Grassy Fork Elementary School here in the United States,” said Roe. “It’s time to bring our troops home.”
With regard to firearms regulation, Roe suggested any firearm manufacturer who wants to leave New York would be welcome in Tennessee.
“We’ll take the jobs,” he said.
Addressing the country’s budgetary woes long term, the congressman reminded his audience “you can’t tax yourself to wealth, you can’t spend yourself to wealth. Your gonna have to make some sacrifices.”
He said the debt ceiling would be a major issue in the future because President Obama wants to get some of the needed revenue by raising taxes on the wealthy, but Republicans are opposed to any tax hike.
State Sen. Steve Southerland said the state created nearly 800,000 new jobs since 2011, and he says Barron’s magazine has ranked Tennessee as the third best managed state in the country.
“We’ve cut spending but no one has gone hungry,” he told the audience.
In addition to reducing the sales tax on food, Southerland said the legislature also wants to eliminate the estate tax completely. Currently such a tax is paid only on an inheritance over $1,000,000.
He also talked about major transportation improvements in the community that will facilitate tourism.
In response to a question, the senator said because some school systems in the state are not doing a good job of educating students, school vouchers are a good alternative. But he said a statewide voucher program “would do more harm to our public schools. If it’s not broke don’t fix it and in East Tennessee it’s not broke.”
Vouchers use public tax dollars to send students to private schools.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison said the recent state budget earmarks $100 million for the state’s Rainy Day Fund above paying the bills. Currently he said Tennessee is ranked in the top five of business friendly states in the country.
Faison also argued that Medicaid should not be expanded because the federal government will pay for it only for three years.
“Health care is not a right. It’s a privilege. People have to work for it. We need to provide basic needs, but at the end of the day you need to work and provide for your health care,” he said.
He said the new state budget earmarks an additional $8 million for the promotion of tourism, because for every dollar spent to promote tourist destinations, the economy reaps $18.
Faison also argued for the elimination of the Hall Income Tax, which taxes investment income.
Cocke County Mayor Vaughn Moore reported that the new contract with Tidi Waste is saving the county money, but he said the cost of disposing of waste tires is higher than the subsidy received from the state.
Newport Mayor Connie Ball reported that under Vision 2020, the city is planning a new library complex, to include a convention center downtown. The community is being asked for donations to the project, and the mayor said newly annexed areas would help to pay for the costs.
An expansion of the Riverwalk is planned and it is to include a splash park. An amphitheater is planned for downtown property recently purchased by the city.
Parrottsville Mayor Mary Keller said she is working to preserve the history of the city. She suggested that those interested in genealogy research, “just run for public office and someone else will do it for you.”
Other plans are to create a museum in the town and add a splash pad at the city park. In June the town also is planning to offer a picnic for all veterans.
-By Ray Snader, Tribune Correspondent