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Hill says food tax cut only a start, but 'still huge'

June 14th, 2007 12:00 am by Hank Hayes

Second in a series

The major pieces of legislation sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill this year ran into a legislative grinder.

But the Jonesborough Republican got part of what he wanted on his centerpiece issue - sales tax relief on food.

Hill had sponsored a bill exempting groceries from state sales tax, but it was deferred in April by the Democrat-controlled House Finance Committee until 2008.

What lawmakers ended up passing was a half-cent reduction in the sales tax on groceries.

"The permanent reduction in the sales tax on groceries ... that is something I have been fighting for ever since I first got elected," Hill said in reflecting on this legislative session. "I don't think (the half-cent cut) is anywhere near enough. We were going from nothing and we ended up with a half-cent. That is a starting point, not an ending point. That's still huge."

Near the end of the legislative session, Hill issued a release saying he "stood with House leaders" as they renewed their call for food tax relief by handing out grocery gift cards in front of the Capitol.

While tax relief on food did happen, a number of Hill's other causes hit a legislative wall.

One bill to make ignition interlock devices mandatory for all first-time DUI offenders was deferred to a summer study committee. Another bill to re-establish elected school superintendents was referred for further review. Hill withdrew a bill to reduce handgun carry permit application fees from $115 to $100. His bill to require the state budget to be prepared and adopted on a two-year, rather than annual, basis, was assigned to the so-called "Black Hole" House Budget Subcommittee.

Hill's bill to make the punishment for child rape the same as the punishment for first-degree murder failed for lack of a seconding motion in a Judiciary subcommittee.

But the House did pass a "Jessica's Law" stiffening penalties for child sex offenders. "I would consider that a huge success," Hill said.

Hill said that one bill he initially sponsored - a measure requiring parental written permission for a student to join a school club or organization - was used near the session's end to resurrect an initiative to use excess lottery funds for school capital projects. But that bill failed as well.

House Democrats hold a 53-46 majority, and Hill indicated they remain firmly in charge.

"They are so partisan. When (a piece of legislation has) got an ‘R' next to it, we can't pass it. What we're supposed to be about is good policy."

Hill voted against a 42-cent per pack cigarette tax increase and supported a House GOP-advocated alternative budget without a tax increase. But House Democrats prevailed, and the tax hike passed.

"In a year when we have a $1.5 billion surplus, I believe it is fiscally irresponsible to raise taxes of any kind," Hill said.

That cigarette tax increase is expected to support Gov. Phil Bredesen's education funding reform initiative. Washington County and Johnson City are projected to receive more than $6.8 million combined under Bredesen's plan passed by lawmakers.

"The things that went right include the (Basic Education Program) funding reformulation that I supported that will help our school systems in Johnson City and Washington County," Hill said.

For more about Hill, go to Click on "House" and then "Members" to see a list of bills sponsored and co-sponsored by Hill.

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