Bass looking toward new commissioner

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tennessee's Legislature has finished its session with a state budget sent to the governor before July 1 when the revenue and spending plan starts, including money for the restaurant at Henry Horton State Park.

It's an accomplishment cited by state Rep. Eddie Bass during a brief interview on Lewisburg's public square Wednesday when he was asked about the limitation on the funding. It's only good for one year. What then?

"This time next year, more than likely, we'll have a different commissioner," Bass replied, noting that because Gov. Phil Bredesen can't run again, Jim Fyke probably won't continue to be the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. TDEC oversees state parks.

The state park restaurant does not support itself. New procedures, menus and other changes to its operation have been suggested, considered, applied and discussed. Some seem to attract more patrons. One alternative considered when Fyke visited with local officials at the park recently was to request proposals from businesses that may want to take over the restaurant. That wouldn't be necessary if the park was self-sustaining.

"We're actually seeing the sales tax revenue from the park leveling off," Bass said, citing one measurement of the restaurant's financial viability. Revenues, and therefore sales taxes, had been declining.

Since the most recent figures did not show a decrease, Bass said, "We're all hoping that's the start of a turn around."

Bass is running for re-election. He has no challenger in the Democratic Party's Primary on Aug. 5. Neither does Marshall County Commission Chairman Billy Spivey, so he will be the GOP candidate facing Bass in November.

"If I'm in the legislature," Bass said, "the work will start to continue that restaurant as is."

He is not interested in commercial operation of the restaurant. "Only as a last resort," Bass said. "We have a wonderful park there. One avenue feeds off the other," he said of the restaurant helping people decide to stay at the inn and those two facilities make the park more attractive for a family vacation when some may play golf while others swim in the pool.

As for the end of the legislative session, Bass said, "I'm pleased with the way it ended with no new taxes."

Laws were proposed to increase fees that Bass sees as taxes.

"I don't care what you call it," he said. "I oppose those."

They included more for: drivers licenses; Cable TV franchise fees that could be passed along to customers; and fees for crime lab work on DNA, fingerprints and, among other technical work, blood analysis. It's provided to law enforcement agencies at no charge by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

As for the new charge to cities, Bass said, "I did amendments to kill that early."

Once a fee is created, he says it won't go away and will probably increase regardless of the economy.

Farmers and the crippled economy were helped by new laws passed by the legislature, he added.

"We were able to help with Agriculture Enhancement money for genetics, equipment and farm structures," he said.

It helps more than just farmers, Bass said.

If farmers are helped building hay sheds, the excavator, carpenter and lumber dealer benefit and the improvement goes on the property tax rolls, Bass said.

"It helps everyone," he said. "Not just the farmer, and that money comes, largely, from the cigarette tax."