January 31, 2013 — In the Senate, the nine standing committees are up and running. State and Local Government, which I chair, heard a presentation from Comptroller Justin Wilson on the County Financial Management Systems Act of 2013. This bill, which is permissive (voluntary), requires counties to centralize their financial management systems. Almost half of Tennessee’s counties have no centralized accounting, financial or purchasing program which encourages duplication and waste. The Comptroller has asked me to carry the bill through the Senate which I am glad to do. It will provide a local option for forward thinking counties to enter the 21st century.
The Speaker also appointed me to serve on the important Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which has jurisdiction over all business and labor generally. I was re-elected by my Senate colleagues to serve another term on the Fiscal Review Committee which has oversight over state revenues and contracts, among other things.
The highlight of the week was a presentation of Governor Haslam to a joint session of both the House and Senate. It was the best speech he has made. The proposed budget calls for a total expenditure of $32 billion. Several provisions will benefit the 12th District:
A fully funded Basic Education Program (BEP)
$51 million for technology upgrades in the schools
$34 to schools for school security measures
$16 for equipment for Tennessee’s Technology Centers and Community Colleges
Upgrading 200 case manager positions in the Department of Children’s Services
$8 million for a statewide tourism program
The budget also continues phasing down the sales tax on food by a quarter of a percent and proposes an increase in the exemption for Hall Income Taxpayers. I would like to see the Hall Income Tax abolished but until that happens I will continue to support increases in the exemption for senior citizens over the age of 65.
Although Tennessee’s revenue continues to grow, we are still not at 2008 collection levels, the year the Great Recession began. We must be very careful not to spend more than we take in. The cost to the state of implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care act remains an uncertainty. The Governor wisely is resisting the temptation to spend increased revenues until the cost to Tennessee is known. Sound financial management by the Governor and the General Assembly is one reason a national financial magazine recently described Tennessee as one of the top three best managed states in the U.S.
There are many other issues that the legislature will take up such as school vouchers, “guns in parking lots,” Medicaid expansion and wine in grocery stores. I will write about these issues as they come up in committee or on the Senate floor.
Please contact me any time. My email address is [email protected] My toll-free phone number is 1-800-449-TENN ext. 11449. My legislative office address is Suite G-19 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243. I look forward to hearing from you.