I had another productive and exciting week in Nashville! Each week seems to bring a set of new challenges for myself and my staff. Some of the main issues facing the district are always on my mind and this week we made another step forward in finding some solutions. I am in the process of finalizing a meeting at the Lannom center on Feb 22, 2013 to meet with the Commissioner of Transportation.
I reached out to the office of the Commissioner and he gladly accepted an invitation to visit the district for a round-table meeting to see if we can fix some of the problems with Northwest Tennessee's transportation infrastructure. His interest in the district reaffirmed my belief that the transportation problems we face as a district will eventually be solved.
I had several friends from the area spend some time with me this week. Jeff Agee (First Citizen National Bank), Michael Hagan (Reelfoot Bank), and Tim Shanks (Commercial Bank, Union City) were in town for the Tennessee Bankers Association reception on Thursday night. It was good to catch up with them and discuss the district. The Tennessee Press Association reception was on the same night and it was my pleasure to meet with David & Scott Critchlow and Author Melton of the Union City Daily Messenger to discuss a piece of legislation that would affect their business.
After we caught up I got right to work on some legislation to help fix an outdated policy on scrapping perfectly useful school buses. It never seems to amaze me how many old laws negatively affect our schools budgets. This legislation will be an uphill battle but it is imperative that we allow the school districts to be able to use their resources in an efficient manner.
This week we had the first sub-committee on state government for this session. I was very excited to chair the meeting. This year we are going to be very busy but I am so proud of the staff and other members of the committee. I love the fact that I and the other members have a direct influence in keeping a close watch on how your money is being spent and I really look forward to making sure your tax dollars are spent in a wise manner.
* Tennessee Comptroller Gives Overview of State Finances
During House budget hearings this week, Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson praised accomplishments by lawmakers during the 2012 legislative session to cut taxes, pass a balanced budget, and reduce the overall size of state government.
"Tennessee's current financial state is attributable to the willingness of the General Assembly to enact budgets that have foregone, reduced or eliminated expenses and services," said Wilson. He also attributed recent financial success to the ability of the Haslam Administration to create efficiencies in government operations.
Looking forward, however, Wilson cautioned lawmakers to be careful about future spending plans, stating the costs associated with funding potential federal mandates, such as the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), exceed optimistic revenue projections. As such, Wilson encouraged legislators to continue reducing expenses and for the Haslam Administration to continue increasing the efficiency of state operations.
University of Tennessee Economists Predict Stronger Economy in Coming Years
Economists with the University of Tennessee this week predicted the state will see a stronger economy over the next two years.
While the economic outlook calls for modest growth in 2013, the study also cites "substantially stronger growth" in 2014. In addition, the report states Tennessee's unemployment rate will fall to 7.9 percent this year and 7.5 percent in 2014.
The study also predicts natural resource related fields, construction, and professional business services will see the strongest growth rates over the coming years.
For more information on this study, visit http://cber.bus.utk.edu.
* Republican Legislators Spearhead Effort to Cut Size of State Government
Republican legislators this week unveiled a new measure aimed at cutting the size of Tennessee government. The initiative, referred to as the Office of the Repealer, follows through on a Republican promise to streamline state government, save taxpayer dollars, and make the legislative process more transparent to the general public.
The Office of the Repealer will be a one-time, four-year position with the sole responsibility of making recommendations to the legislature of areas of government waste, duplication, and out-of-date regulations that should be removed from the law books.
In addition, the Repealer will take recommendations directly from the public, basing its decisions on input received from business-owners, educators, activists, and concerned citizens from across the state.
The Office of the Repealer will be housed under the Secretary of State and will be implemented using funding previously approved for a now obsolete staff position, thus costing no additional money to Tennessee taxpayers.
* Education Reform Group Calls for More Difficult College Standards
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education is calling for tougher college standards for Tennessee students, an announcement that was made Tuesday during SCORE's third annual review of the state's progress in education.
Among the recommendations offered, SCORE Chairman Bill Frist emphasized that state lawmakers must not go back on progress made over the last few years relating to education reform. In particular, Frist cited that legislators be firm making sure reforms passed over the last two years are not diluted during the 2013-2014 legislation session.
Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Commissioner of Education, detailed proposals by Governor Haslam to continue improving education in Tennessee, stating that while the Administration feels good about the progress and policies in place to help education move forward, there is still a "very, very long way to go".
Additional details on the SCORE report can be found at www.tnscore.org.