Tennessee legislators need to work harder to find a solution to the state's educational funding problems, said participants in a Saturday-afternoon rally in downtown Knoxville.
About 35 people attended the rally sponsored by University of Tennessee Faculty Senate and United Campus Workers, which took place in front of the Knoxville Convention/Exhibition Center.
Some held signs supporting a living wage for UT workers and "fair pay" for state employees.
Speakers included Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, UT Student Government Association President Bradford Bricken, UT Faculty Senate President Katherine Greenberg and Democratic National Committee member Bill Owen.
In her address, Greenberg called the "lack of adequate funding in the state of Tennessee ... a moral issue.
"Lack of funding deprives our children," she said.
She said UT faculty are leaving their positions because they are frustrated with inadequate funding, which affects faculty and staff salaries.
"We need to help them (legislators) understand the crisis of education today," Greenberg said.
Owen said UT faculty and staff are working under deteriorating conditions.
"We're going backwards in our support for education," he said.
He advocated tax reform to ease state budget woes, but said temporary sales tax increases - which tend to become permanent - aren't the solution.
"Are you afraid of an income tax," he asked. "I'm not. Now is the time for Tennessee to have a progressive income tax."
Owen later told The Daily Beacon that "higher education depends on support from the state."
"We are falling further and further behind our peer institution(s)," he said. "It is because of the budget impasse."
Dave McClure, a departmental supervisor at Hodges Library who helped organize the rally and introduced the event's speakers, said the decision came to organize the rally after a disappointing legislative response during a panel discussion on higher educat
ion held in November between university representatives and legislators.
He said the rally was held on a Saturday to send a message to legislators about "working overtime to solve this problem.
"We feel that these legislators are not concentrating on this issue (or listening) to us," he said. "Right now their responsibility is to make sure our children are educated.
"We're trying to get the legislators to start discussing how to fund education in Tennessee, to make them aware that the voters in Knoxville are going to force this issue," he said.
He gave several options for solutions to the funding problem: raise the sales tax or institute a state property tax, a flat tax or a lottery.
"What is a sure thing, is an income tax," he added.
He said legislators need to present the available options to their constituents, take a vote on what the people want and then ignore the "rock throwers" in Nashville.
He said concerned citizens should contact their representatives this week because he believes this is when legislators will be discussing state budget issues.
According to McClure, Tennessee legislators were invited to the rally. None showed up.