Stateline Story

Delaware, Tennessee Legislatures Called Into Special Session

Education and tax reform are the topics of legislative special sessions in Delaware and Tennessee. Delaware's Democratic Gov. Thomas Carper summoned lawmakers back to work to consider his controversial plan to raise the standards and accountability required of teachers in his state, while Tennessee's Republican Gov. Don Sundquist is pushing for action on a tax reform plan. Meanwhile, Massachusetts legislators remain mired in a budget stalemate.

Last week, Carper traveled the state, hosting a number of town meetings to try to build grassroots support for his plan to raise professional standards and accountability among teachers and administrators.

His Teacher Accountability Act would create a 15-member commission, comprised of eight educators, a parental advisor and school and business representatives, to draft teacher certification plans and submit them to the Board of Education.

Controversy has plagued the legislation from the start because of its vague language. Critics contend questionable references to terms such as "immoral" and "disloyal" could strip educators of their credentials for unfair reasons.

The Assembly is also expected to amend state election laws. Republican Party chairman Basil R. Battaglia has asked the legislature to approve a February 8, 2000 date for the state primary.

The legislation would also extend the dates by which political parties can enter into or opt out of the election. All declared candidates eligible for matching funds would secure a spot on the ballot, regardless of their intentions to accept or decline funds.

Tennessee lawmakers are heading back to work as well. Earlier this week, Gov. Don Sundquist announced a special session on November 1, 1999 to consider tax reform.

Although Sundquist failed to win major tax reform in a special session earlier this year, he insists on bringing legislators back until they pass a long-term solution to solve the state's revenue dilemma.

The state faces a $383 million budget shortage in the next fiscal year if new revenue is not generated.

Sundquist's plan calls for a 4% flat-rate income tax and a reduction in sales tax. It would also remove tax on groceries and eliminate the Hall Income Tax on investments.

The political feasibility of the plan remains uncertain. Several House members have expressed hesitation in voting for a bill that would link them to tax change.

In Massachusetts, controversy over a fifteen-cent fare hike on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority subway system has stalled passage of a budget agreement announced by legislative leaders earlier this month. The disagreement is the latest delay in the nearly four-month overdue plan, which has left Massachusetts as the only state without a budget.

The budget deal announced by Senate President Birmingham and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran on October 13, 1999 would increase subway fares to $1 and bus rates to 85 cents in an effort to make the MBTA fiscally independent. Currently, the state is reimbursing the agency every 18 months.

Despite having one of the cheapest transit systems in the country, many legislators are afraid of the political consequences of a fare hike. It became clear this week that the Senate would not approve the deal. Now, lawmakers are scrambling to negotiate a compromise over how much to subsidize the agency.

The Boston Globe indicates a growing animosity between the House and Senate who are scheduled to recess on November 17. Further delay in the budget process may extend their term even longer, since Governor Cellucci is expected to veto a number of measures within the plan. The Governor has ten days -- excluding Sundays and holidays -- in which to return it to the Legislature.