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Wamp Scoffs at McWherter’s Tax-Break Vow

Candidates ought to be careful not to make political promises they can’t meet once in office, says the Chattanooga congressman: “Tax breaks right now in Tennessee are going to be really hard to come by.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp said Tuesday Democrat Mike McWherter’s pledge to give tax breaks to businesses that create jobs is an example of an “empty campaign promise” that can’t be met.

He likens such an idea to the strategies coming out of Washington from President Obama.

Wamp, in Montgomery County as part of several campaign stops Tuesday in Middle Tennessee, also said he has enough money to compete with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam for the Republican nomination. He said he will begin his own television campaign advertising soon and described the request for an ethics investigation into his living quarters in Washington as “bogus.”

Wamp, the 3rd District U.S. representative from Chattanooga, pointed out that the state is looking at a budget deficit of over $1 billion.

“I think we all have to be careful that we’re not just throwing out political promises you can’t meet once you’re governor, because tax breaks right now in Tennessee are going to be really hard to come by until we fill up this $1-billion-plus budget hole,” Wamp said. “And that’s responsible, honest talk.

“Anyone who’s talking about tax breaks as soon as they become governor right now is just trying to throw out some empty campaign promise, in my opinion. Right now, we’ve got to reform the way state government does business, we’ve got to right-size state government. Frankly, if the Democratic nominee’s incentives for economic development mirror President Obama’s, no thanks.”

McWherter last week, in his speech formally announcing his candidacy, said he would give tax breaks to businesses who hire Tennessee workers. McWherter also called into question Haslam’s honesty in his campaign ads that said Haslam helped create 11,000 jobs.

None of the three major Republican nominees — Wamp, Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — has advocated tax breaks in the campaign.

“The government largess and the government make-jobs by the Democrats in power today in this country haven’t worked, and there’s not a whole lot of state incentives you can offer in the state budget unlike the federal budget for small business investment,” Wamp said.

Kim Sasser Hayden, McWherter’s campaign manager, said in an e-mail response, “Zach Wamp’s spent way too long in Washington, and he’s busy finding excuses how not to get things done.”

“Zach is right about one thing: It will be difficult to get things done if his views prevail,” she added.

Wamp reported campaign fund-raising figures this week that put him over $3 million in total contributions, but that was far short of the figure Haslam’s campaign put out that said Haslam has now topped $7 million in funds.

“He could spend $50 million if he wants to,” Wamp said of the wealthy Haslam. “So you really can’t worry about what their top number is. What you do is raise the amount you need to communicate with 500,000 people.”

Wamp reflected on some of Haslam’s own words to make his point.

“There’s some science to this,” Wamp said. “He said himself a year ago you could run a successful campaign for governor with $5 million, and I agree with what he said a year ago, because that’s about what I’m going to do. If you’re a good candidate, $5 million is all it takes. If you’re not a good candidate, who knows? It may take $15 million.”

Wamp, who noted that on Thursday there will be only 100 days before early voting starts, said he would be airing television ads “very soon.”

“That’s all I’m going to say,” he replied about the timing. “With 100 days to early voting, you’re getting into a window where people are paying attention and therefore paid communication becomes essential, and we’re not very far at all away from paid communication.

“Frankly, I’m really excited about that, because I have won the ground game in this campaign for 15 months. Now that I get to go up on air very soon, this is going to be a very successful campaign down the stretch.”

Wamp also has issues to address in Washington, however. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has filed complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Office of Congressional Ethics against Wamp and other members of Congress who live or who have resided in a building known as C Street House. The group claims congressional members who stay in the house are paying below-market rates in violation of rules regarding gifts for members.

“It’s a totally bogus claim,” Wamp said Tuesday. “To allege we’re not paying market value is simply not analyzing the market.”

He said CREW’s request for an investigation is just that.

“This was just an outside group filing the complaint,” he said. “Unless and until that committee takes it up, it’s not in any way an investigation. It’s just been filed, so I don’t know if they will or what they will do to take it up, to be honest with you. It is the most ridiculous allegation and claim that I have seen. I have lived there for 14 years. Isn’t it interesting that this just now comes up?

“Over 50 members of Congress live in their offices for free, subsidized by the taxpayer,” Wamp said. “Over 50.”

CREW says House and Senate gift rules prohibit what’s being done.

“Unless they’re going to do an evaluation of all 535 members — and it will be a wide range, from the freebies in the House gym to multi-multi-millionaires — you can’t just pick a few and file an investigation,” Wamp said. “I don’t see how you just pick a few and say we’re going to look at them but not everybody. They need to look at everybody if they’re going to look at one.”

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