The complete defeat of the service tax puts the legislature back to square one on a budget plan only two weeks before the end of the fiscal year. It was also quite possibly the most complete rejection of any bill ever on the House floor.
"I don't think in my 26 years I have ever seen that happen," House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh said after the vote was taken, referring to the unanimous no vote. "But a lot has happened in the last few days that I have not seen before."
Even Rep. Shelby Rhinehart, who sponsored the proposal as a member of the committee, switched his vote from yes to no at the last minute. Everyone in the chamber - from the House members to the reporters to the hundreds of lobbyists and citizens who had packed into the gallery - erupted in laughter at that point.
Mr. Rhinehart took the defeat well, but then pointed out to his colleagues that "we still have to have a budget deal, and I don't know what we are going to do."
State Treasurer Steve Adams helped Mr. Rhinehart present the plan to the House. It was clear from the things that were said to Mr. Rhinehart and Mr. Adams that the bill was doomed.
Among the comments:
* Rep. Mike Williams of Franklin, who pointed out that under the plan, country club dues would be exempt but the price of chemotherapy would not.
* Rep. Ulysses Jones of Memphis, who described it as a plan that went from "taxing the upper class of 40,000 to taxing five million people."
* Rep. Gene Caldwell of Clinton, who said that the tax would further harm TennCare. "If you want to end TennCare, vote for this bill. If this passes, TennCare will die within a month."
* Rep. Brenda Turner of Chattanooga, who pointed out that she liked the five percent income tax better.
* Rep. Ken Givens of Rogersville, who spoke out against the fact that it was a tax imposed on sick people and on funerals.
* Rep. Raymond Walker of Dayton, who said he didn't like the idea of a tax on hospitals.
* Rep. Doug Jackson of Dickson, who charged that the idea had not been run by the appropriate health care committees, such as the TennCare Oversight Committee. "To rush to judgment to this vast of a proposal would be truly irresponsible," Mr. Jackson said.
The vote sends the budget back to the conference committee, which will likely meet again tonight.
The amusing vote came at the end of a House session that started off a little testy. About a hundred people, obviously protesting the general idea of tax increases, were so congesting the halls of the Capitol that security had to rope off an area for them. The protesters, yelling "NO! NO! NO!" at the top of their lungs, formed a gauntlet of people through which legislators had to pass to reach the chamber.
As the protesters grew loud, Speaker Jimmy Naifeh became notably concerned. However, he took no steps to calm the crowd until the House went into session. At that point, he calmly said that he wanted order restored.
"This is the people's chamber and they are all welcome here, so long as they let us conduct our business," Mr. Naifeh said.
After the House rejected the budget plan, it spent the next hour passing resolutions honoring retiring members.
- ALEX B FRUIN INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDACE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDANCE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; FRUIN, ALEX B TRUSTEE; FRUIN ALEX B INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC, CANDACE F TRUSTEE; STEFANSIC CANDACE F INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC CANDANCE F INHERITANCE TRUST
- ROSS, BRIDGETT D
- COOKE, ETHEN LANYARD TRUSTEE; COOKE, ETHEN LEWIS ESTATE
- JACOBS, JESSICA ALEXANDRA; JACOBS, ERIKA BESS