(NASHVILLE, TN), January 13, 2011 — The 107th General Assembly has begun as state lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to take the oath of office, elect officers and organize the business of the 2010-2011 legislative sessions.
Families and friends crowded the Senate chamber and watched proudly as 17 of the State Senate’s members took the oath of office, which was the first order of business during the organizational session. The Majority Caucus welcomed four new members to the Senate: Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson).
The second order of business was the re-election of Ron Ramsey as Lt. Governor. This will be the third term of office for Ramsey, who also serves as Speaker of the Tennessee Senate.
“This is an exciting and challenging time for our state and our nation,” Ramsey told the Senate afterwards. “We stand at the beginning of a new decade and a new era in Tennessee. There is a new Governor and new leadership in the House of Representatives. It is the individuals in this chamber who will provide the experienced, successful leadership to guide our state.”
Ramsey cited a mandate from voters to reduce the size of state government; control spending; ease burdens on taxpayers; have a renewed focus on job creation; provide more education choices for parents; and collaborate with sister states to make the federal government protect state jobs and borders. He also noted the difficult budget challenges which lawmakers face during the 107th General Assembly, as well as the task of reapportionment which comes every ten years after the federal census.
“Tennessee has a bright future ahead of her as long as we remain dedicated to job creation and Tennessee’s traditions of faith and family. Together we can make that future a reality,” he concluded.
A few yards down the hall from the second floor Senate chambers, the House of Representatives witnessed the election of the first woman to be elected Speaker in Tennessee, Representative Beth Harwell. The historic action marks the first time in state history that a Republican governor will have Republican speakers and majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The organizational week ends with the inauguration of Tennessee’s new governor, Bill Haslam. The General Assembly will then stand in a brief recess to allow for office assignments.
General Assembly elects State Comptroller and Treasurer
The opening organizational week was also marked by re-election of two of the state’s three constitutional officers, Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard and Comptroller Justin Wilson. The state’s Constitution provides that the legislature selects those offices in a joint session during the organization session of each General Assembly, which occurred on Wednesday. Secretary of State Tre Hargett does not stand for election until the 108th General Assembly convenes in 2013, as that office is elected for a four-year term.
“All of our constitutional officers have earned tremendous respect from the General Assembly during their first two years in office,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). They have been a tremendous asset to Tennessee and we are looking forward to working with them in the 2011-12 legislative sessions.”
Among many other duties, the Comptroller audits state agencies and county governments to ensure they are run efficiently and in accordance with the purposes set by state law. The Treasurer accounts for the state’s finances, including its investments and pension funds. The three constitutional officers also serve on several key boards, such as the State Building Commission, which maintains all state-owned public buildings, and the Funding Board, which is responsible for projecting how much revenue the state will collect for budgeting purposes.
Lillard, an attorney and past president of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association, has extensive experience in municipal finance issues, securities and bonds, and investment oversight before becoming Treasurer in 2009. Wilson is former Deputy Governor of Tennessee and has vast experience with fiduciary matters in law, business and charitable organizations before taking the helm in the Comptroller’s office two years ago.
Budget tops list of issues for 2011 legislative session
With organizational tasks out of the way, the 107th General Assembly can now get to work on the important issues facing Tennessee as the new legislative session begins. Although the budget will be the predominant driver for legislative action this year, other key issues expected to be on the legislative agenda in 2011 are unemployment and job creation, education, shoring up the state’s lottery scholarship fund, and immigration reform.
Nearly $2 billion in nonrecurring funds has helped Tennessee’s 2010-2011 budget recover from recession-related revenue shortfalls. With those funds now expiring and unemployment remaining high, lawmakers must tighten the belt to weather the economic storm.
“Unlike Washington, Tennessee is constitutionally bound to balance the budget,” said Senate Finance Chairman Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “The current economic condition means lawmakers must be vigilant to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective manner possible.”
The General Assembly adopted a plan to address the $1.7 billion budget gap in multiple budget cycles with expenditure reductions, future revenue growth, limited revenue measures and the use of one-time funding to help balance the budget. Lawmakers hope these measures have provided a smoother transition to a smaller budget. The legislature will get a clearer budget picture when Governor Haslam presents his state spending proposal to the General Assembly, which is expected in late February or early March.
On job creation, Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) said Republican lawmakers will continue to defend the rights of small business owners against any further efforts to place government mandates on companies within state boundaries. Governor-elect Haslam has also announced that he will be proposing a job creation program during the next legislative session.
“We must lessen the bureaucratic burden on our citizens and businesses so we unleash the potential and the ingenuity of our citizens to grow Tennessee jobs,” said Senator Ketron. “Tennessee must be aggressive in bringing new jobs to the state. This includes keeping Tennessee a business-friendly state by holding down taxes and government red tape. Senate Republicans have worked diligently to resist efforts to erode Tennessee’s business-friendly status.”
The nation’s jobless rate has been nine percent or higher longer than any post-World War II period.