Haslam Still Mum on GOP Presidential Favorite

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he sees how presidential candidate Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan would be attractive to voters looking for simplicity, but Haslam is not identifying his favorite Republican candidate in the race yet.

Cain has proposed a tax plan that would include a tax of 9 percent on income, 9 percent on business and 9 percent on sales. Cain has surged in recent polls and was on the defensive about his plan in the most recent Republican presidential debate on Tuesday.

Haslam remained noncommittal on the race after an appearance Wednesday at a district attorneys conference in Nashville.

“I probably will at some point in time, but I’m not close to announcing an endorsement today,” Haslam said.

He acknowledged that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has signed on as chairman for the Rick Perry campaign in Tennessee, has talked to Haslam about a possible endorsement of the Texas governor.

“We’ve had a few conversations,” Haslam said, smiling.

Haslam readily explained one reason Cain’s candidacy has gained attention.

“I think the simplicity of it is what’s attractive to people,” Haslam said. “There’s some different opinions about whether the math works. I don’t know enough to say on that. I do think Americans would like a much more simple tax code than we have right now.”

For Tennesseans, a national sales tax of 9 percent would come along with the state’s 7 percent sales tax, with the additional effect of the local option sales tax of up to 2.75 percent. Many Tennesseans are now paying 9.75 percent on many purchases.

“Obviously, that’s an issue,” Haslam said. “I think most Tennesseans would want to do the math on it and see ultimately: What does this cost me or save me? But again, I think most people are attracted to the simplicity of it. Whether that, for individuals, would cost them any more or less would be the big question.”

Tax talk has many facets in Tennessee. The state does not have a personal income tax, although it does have a tax, known as the Hall tax, on interest and dividends.

“We have a lot of discussion now in Tennessee about what’s taxable,” Haslam said. “Obviously, in a high sales tax state like Tennessee, you’re getting to where you’re really discouraging retail purchases really heavily when you go to 16 or 16-and-a-half percent sales tax.”

Tennessee’s presidential primary for 2012 is Tuesday, March 6.