(Alexandria, VA) -- As so-called "recipient advocates" condemn Governor Phil Bredesen's (D) plan to reform the beleaguered TennCare system, the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU), a nationwide taxpayer advocate, offered another round of applause for the Governor and a warning to lawmakers who hope to prop up the program with higher taxes: don't even think about it. NTU has 350,000 members nationwide and more than 5,800 members in Tennessee.
"By proposing a bold plan to preserve health care for needy Tennesseans without burdening taxpayers, Phil Bredesen is putting the word 'govern' back into the office of 'Governor,'" said NTU President John Berthoud. "Contrary to the hysteria being spread by lawyers who are masquerading as health advocates, the Governor's proposal to restructure the TennCare system will encourage responsible use of public funding by politicians and patients alike."
Berthoud warned, however, that legislation from State Senator Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) seeking a tobacco tax increase to bail out TennCare is economically futile. "Not only are excise tax collections especially sensitive to cross-border shopping, but tax hikes of any kind can't serve as a crutch for a broken program whose benefit structure must be fundamentally overhauled," he said.
According to Berthoud, TennCare is facing a financial crisis similar in severity to the Medicare system, but much more immediate: the State Comptroller reported that TennCare's costs could double between the 2003-2008 period, and by 2008 could devour 91 cents of every new tax dollar raised in the state. "Governor Bredesen's proposal deserves bipartisan support in Nashville and in Washington," Berthoud said. "Swift approval from the Bush Administration would send the right economic and political signal to leaders across the country who want to break free of the tax-and-spend mentality that has afflicted too many state capitals."
NTU and its members have been increasingly active participants in Tennessee's fiscal policy debate over the past five years. During the Sundquist Administration, NTU strenuously opposed schemes from the Governor and the Legislature to impose a broad-based income tax, and more recently the group has thrown support behind a Constitutional "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights," proposed by State Senator Jim Bryson (R-Franklin), which would limit the growth of state government. In November 2004 NTU sent a coalition letter with two other citizen organizations to Bredesen urging him to end TennCare and protect federal and state taxpayers "from this fiscal debacle in the making." Future NTU efforts on behalf of TennCare reform could include e-mail alerts to online subscribers, talk radio tours, and grassroots lobbying of state lawmakers.
"Tennessee's economic future is too important to gamble on tax hikes," Berthoud concluded. "In the true spirit of the Volunteer State, our members are prepared to help make Governor Bredesen's prescription for reform a reality."
NTU is a non-profit, non-partisan citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and more accountability from elected officials at all levels. Note: The November 17 coalition letter to Governor Bredesen is available at www.ntu.org.