It’s been a busy first month at the state capitol. I’m so proud to serve as your voice in Nashville. Tennessee is experiencing tremendous success and prosperity under Republican leadership. I’ll be working hard in 2020 to further build on these accomplishments. Here’s an update on what’s been happening on the hill:
Tennessee is officially the “Volunteer State”
Republican leaders on Feb. 10 approved a measure officially designating Tennessee the “Volunteer State.”
House Bill 1562 designates the “Volunteer State” as the official nickname of Tennessee. While Tennessee has held this distinction since 1812, it is not currently documented in state law.
Tennessee has been referred to as the “Volunteer State” because of its tradition of answering the call of duty, most notably during the War of 1812. When Tennessee was asked to send 1,500 troops to defend the lower Mississippi region during this conflict, the “Volunteer State” instead answered the call with 30,000 troops. House Bill 1562 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
What’s coming up in Education in 2020
Providing our children with a high-quality educational experience is our most important obligation.
That is why my Republican colleagues and I have already made an $11.3 billion total investment in education as part of our current state budget. This includes $6.6 billion in K-12 funding.
Gov. Lee in his State of the State address on Feb. 3 announced many forward-thinking education initiatives for the coming year.
- Investing an additional $117 million in teacher salaries
- Recommending moving the minimum teacher salary schedule from $36,000 to $40,000 over the next two years
- Creating the K-12 Mental Health Trust Fund through $250 million in one-time funds to support the growth and placement of mental health services for students through a systemwide, evidence-based, whole child approach
- Growing school-based behavioral health liaison program from 36 counties to all 95 counties
- Setting new standards for public elementary literacy training and instruction and providing improved literacy supports and interventions for K-2 students
- Launching the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship to support the education of more than 1,000 future teachers per year
- Supporting district-led “Grow Your Own” programs with new curriculum and grants
- Investing $4 million into professional development and career advancement opportunities Applying for a new AP education teaching course
- Establishing the Tennessee Teacher and Leader Institute
Additional highlights from the governor’s speech include:
- Reinvesting more than $100 million in cities and counties.
- Focusing on job creation in distressed and at-risk counties through incentive packages in efforts to attract new businesses to these communities.
- $25 million to further increase broadband accessibility.
- A $20 million investment in the Rural Opportunity Fund to support community development and address critical infrastructure needs.
- Increasing the criminal penalties associated with theft of a firearm and those associated with reckless endangerment of law enforcement and first responders.
- Revising the occupational licensing process to encourage employment for those who desire to re-enter society and become productive citizens.
- Expanding recovery courts and community supervision programs.
- Investing $6.5 million additional recurring funds in the Health Care Safety Network.
- Creating a Children’s Behavioral Health Safety Network through a $7.5 million investment.
- Financing year three of the Rural Hospital Transformation Program.
The full text of the Governor’s address along with video from the speech can be found by clicking here.
House Republicans Pursue Tax Cut Legislation
House Republicans will continue to prioritize legislation that provides additional tax cuts for hardworking Tennesseans.
These cuts include legislation designed to create a Food Tax Holiday for 2020 across the state through House Bill 1697. This initiative would exempt the retail sale of food and food ingredients from a 4 percent sales tax for the months of June and July. However, local taxes – up to 2.75 percent – would still be collected by cities and counties.
Because most Tennessee students are out of school in June and July, this will help families better provide food for their children during summer months, especially those who rely on free and reduced lunches throughout the school year.
Republicans are also considering reductions in the corporate tax, which currently sits at 6.5 percent — one of the highest rates in the entire southeast region. This burdensome tax penalizes businesses by taxing their net earnings. By reducing it, additional revenue should allow our businesses to reinvest and potentially expand operations, which could create new jobs.
Legislation to advance recent progress made eliminating the professional privilege tax is also being considered for the 2020 legislative session. Republican leaders last year slashed $22 million worth of this unnecessary tax on accountants, architects, athletic agents, audiologists, chiropractors, dentists, engineers, landscape architects, optometrists, pharmacists, podiatrists, psychologists, real estate brokers, speech pathologists, and veterinarians.
Tennessee is the lowest tax and lowest debt state in the entire country. By continuing to eliminate burdensome regulations, cutting red-tape, and slashing taxes, Tennessee will remain a national economic leader.
Legislation Lowering Tennessee’s Business Income Tax Gains Support In House
A measure designed to lower Tennessee’s business income tax (excise tax) is gaining support in the House.
House Bill 2301 is a fiscally responsible approach to attract new business to our state and to encourage small business owners to reinvest into their communities by beginning the process of lowering the excise tax from 6.5 percent to 6 percent over a five year period.
The measure would reduce the tax by one-tenth of a percent every year over the next five years, provided revenue growth remains above two percent.
House Bill 2301 also contains built in safety mechanisms that are based upon revenue collections, in the event Tennessee suffers an unexpected economic downturn. If the revenue growth rate is more than one percent but less than two percent, the tax would remain flat.
Should the state’s revenue grow less than one percent, than the tax rate will increase incrementally in the same manner in which it decreased (one-tenth of a percent).
Finally, if revenue collections demonstrate a negative growth rate at any point in the process of lowering the tax, this rate would then return to the original 6.5 percent.
Cutting the business income tax on businesses will put money back into the pockets of owners so they can expand and create new jobs.
Legislation Improving Transportation for Disabled and Aging Citizens Moves Forward
Members of the Finance, Ways, & Means Subcommittee this week approved legislation aimed at improving transportation options for Tennessee’s disabled and aging populations.
The Tennessee Accessible Transportation and Mobility Act of 2020 creates an office within our Department of Transportation dedicated to expanding and improving accessible transportation.
Public transportation is a challenge in certain areas; it can be especially difficult for the disabled and aging. The new office created through House Bill 1596 will be tasked with identifying and working to eliminate barriers to reliable forms of public transportation for these specific populations.
House Bill 1596 heads to the Finance, Ways, & Means Committee for additional discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.
Coming Up: Ag Day on the Hill
The annual “Ag Day on the Hill” event is set to get underway at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. This year’s event coincides with National Agriculture Week and recognizes the important contributions made by our farmers and forestland owners. The 2020 Ag Day on the Hill will feature a cow milking competition and will also provide opportunities for agriculture organizations and agencies to discuss this important industry with their elected officials.