As the Tennessee General Assembly winds down, we find ourselves more gratified than usual. For one thing, the solons up thataway managed to bite the bullet and actually pass a major new tax bill to fund long overdue improvements in the state's seriously needy roadways. The good thing about the 6 percent tax increase on gasoline at the pump (that's 10 percent for diesel) is that a substantial hunk of it will be paid by the 18-wheelers and doubled-up dinosaurs that come wheeling through Memphis in such quantity on a daily basis, contributing more than their share of wear and tear to our thoroughfares.
Never mind that the legislature's conservatives made certain to "balance" (actually, over-balance) the gas tax with massive new tax cuts to benefit corporations and the well-off. We'll do our best to give the benefit of the doubt, one more time, to those who imagine that such giveaways actually create a "stimulus" to growth or an incentive to new industry. But no such rosy scenario can justify the Assembly's decision to accelerate the expiration of the Hall tax on interest and dividends — a modest levy that disproportionately affects the wealthy and has been the source of needed revenues for the state's cash-strapped municipalities.
Nor has there ever been a true rationale for the ongoing abolition of the estate tax (the "death tax" as its critics disingenuously call it), something which only the tiniest percentage of the state's ultra-wealthy have ever had to pay, and in percentages so small as to leave the well-being of their lucky heirs utterly intact.
But, after all, another throw-in to the gas-tax package — optimistically called the "Improve Act" by Governor Bill Haslam, who aggressively pushed it — is a 20 percent reduction in the tax on food and groceries. That's something that benefits everybody — rich and poor, buyer and seller.
Politics, when it works, involves trade offs, and, all things considered, the Improve Act is a good trade off.
Another area in which the General Assembly has gotten down to business in a commendable way is that of criminal justice, where cooperation between Democrats and Republicans can be said to be flourishing. Highlights have been bills to facilitate the employment of rehabilitated felons and to reduce the pain and effort and cost of expungement. Such measures have a positive effect on workforce recruitment; at the same time, they serve as encouragement for Tennesseans determined to correct past mistakes and to improve their lot in life.
To be sure, there have been legislative actions to carp about — like the absurd bill, steamrollered through both chambers, that removes impediments to the sale of silencers for firearms and was sold on the basis that its intent is to safeguard citizens' hearing. The gun lobby still has too much power in the General Assembly.
But, as we have noted more than once, not much time was wasted this year on such misbegotten measures as the "bathroom bill" targeting transgenders or the "natural marriage" act with its presumptuous challenge on a matter that the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have resolved by its recent ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
And, one more time, private-school vouchers didn't make it.