When Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his 2012 State of the State address last week before a joint session of the 107th Session of the Tennessee General Assembly, he focused on “believe in better,” and that stage is being set in Cleveland and Bradley County, according to State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, who represents the 24th Legislative District.
In a statement today, Brooks pointed to a quote from the governor’s address: “We can believe in better for how state government serves Tennesseans. We can believe in better when it comes to the education of our children, and we can believe in better when we talk about a stronger, healthier economy for our state.”
The Cleveland legislator believes this is happening in Cleveland and Bradley County, a rapidly growing community that has caught the eye of onlookers statewide, throughout the nation and even globally as evidenced by business newcomers over the past few years.
Brooks said another way “believe in better” is evident locally is the inclusion of funding for the Bradley County Veterans Home in Haslam’s budget. State commitments will partner with funding from local government and from private donations, as well as federal dollars in the long-term.
“We are very blessed that the funding for the new Veterans Home in Bradley County was included by the governor in the 2012-2013 budget proposal,” Brooks said. “I am very grateful to serve on the House Finance Ways & Means Committee, and to have been a part of the team who put this Veterans funding plan together. Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey, our East Tennessee friend in Nashville, has shepherded this project through for us from his first days in the new administration.”
As stated on the Bradley County Veterans Home website, “Work began on a state resolution to support a VA home in Bradley County in late 2007. The result was passage of House Resolution 531 on May 6, 2008. The resolution was sponsored by Brooks and urged the governor to support the construction of a State Veterans Nursing Home in Bradley County. The resolution passed 97 to 0.”
“This funding for the Bradley County Veterans Home is truly the culmination of the life’s work of John Simmons,” Brooks said. “John is smiling down on us from heaven right now, and telling all of the combat buddies he can find inside those pearly gates. From my very first term in office, I can still remember John Simmons walking the halls of the Legislative Plaza, working on this project.”
Brooks offered some local perspective to the governor’s State of the State address which was delivered last Monday night before a joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate.
During his speech, the governor emphasized the importance of Tennessee job growth, a continued focus on improving education, public safety, a more customer-focused, efficient and effective state government and keeping taxes low, Brooks said. All are objectives being focused locally in Cleveland city and Bradley County government.
Brooks pointed to a quote by the governor.
“Our role in state government is to provide services that Tennesseans aren’t able to get on their own,” Haslam told state legislators. “We build roads, offer higher education options, guard prisoners, help families adopt children, care for the mentally ill, patrol highways, serve veterans and perform hundreds of other services. My job as governor is to make sure we are providing those services in a customer-focused and effective way.”
Brooks referred to highlights of the state budget proposal: Restoration of more than $100 million of the $160 million “core services” funding that was designated two years ago to be cut such as the Coordinated School Health program, extended teacher contracts, alcohol and abuse treatment programs, juvenile justice grants, diabetes prevention and and matching dollars for state employee 401k programs.
The budget document also includes full funding for the Basic Education Program; a 2.5 percent pay increase for state employees; $50 million to the Rainy Day Fund bringing it up to $356 million; tougher sentences for certain gang-related crimes and for gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions along with mandatory incarceration for repeat domestic violence offenders; raising the exemption level on the estate tax in Tennessee from $1 million to $1.25 million to lower the tax burden on family farmers and family business owners; and lowering the state portion of the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent with the goal of lowering it to 5 percent during the next three years.
Brooks offered, “I must say how very grateful I am for Gov. Haslam’s ongoing commitment to Tennessee’s kids. The governor truly is relentless in providing the very best service and shows his commitment to Coordinated School Health is his new budget.”
“Thanks to our state’s Coordinated School Health, student school health screenings were standardized in Tennessee,” he said. “Last year over 1.5 million students were screened. Of those screened, 192,000 students were referred to a health care provider for additional medical attention. This represents a 257 percent increase over the number of referrals in 2006-2007.”
Tennessee CSH coordinators have worked with community partners to establish school-based health clinics, Brooks said. The number of schools with school-based clinics increased from 54 in 2008-2009 to 65 in 2009-2010. The number of Tennessee students served in school clinics increased by 354 percent between 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 (69,305 students compared to 314,829 students).
“Coordinated School Health in Tennessee is a model program across the nation,” Brooks said. “I am proud to partner with these amazing coordinators and their kids to keep our school kids healthy in Tennessee. A healthy child is a learning and growing child. These healthy, growing kids are the workforce for the next generation in our state. I am grateful that our state invests in our kids early, and creates a better environment for our kids to learn and grow. Now that is ‘Believing in Better.’”
“It is truly an honor to have been selected by my friends and neighbors to serve here in the state House,” Brooks said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve.”
Brooks also pointed to the 2011 Annual Report released by Haslam and Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the Economic and Development Department which details successful changes and historic milestones achieved by the department over the past year.
In 2011, ECD projects and private sector growth accounted for 28,535 new jobs in Tennessee and more than $4 billion in investment.
“After reshaping the model for economic development, ECD had one of the most productive years in the state’s history, and job creation hit its highest mark in the last five years and since the onset of the global recession,” Brooks said.
The Cleveland legislator concurs with Haslam’s commitment to make Tennessee the Southeast’s top state for high-quality jobs. He said Haslam’s Jobs4TN plan is working, and echoed the governor’s commitment to continue working on regional growth, existing businesses and key clusters in pursuing new businesses and industries to Tennessee.
Per information from Hagerty, Brooks said Tennessee transformed its economic development model in 2011 by applying solid principles to set the stage for long-term growth.
“The state experienced a record year for private sector job creation in this challenging, new economy,” Hagerty said. “Tennessee is well-positioned to compete nationally and globally with one of the most business-friendly climates in the world.”
ECD was the first state department to undergo Haslam’s top-to-bottom review and this led to a significant realignment of department resources and a reduction in overall staff size of more than 40 percent. At the same time, the business development team, which includes those aimed at recruiting and retaining companies, grew by more than 70 percent.
ECD also lowered the average cost of incentives per new job created as compared to the previous decade. In 2011, the average incentive cost per job was $2,640 versus $5,586 for the years 2002-2010, a reduction of more than 50 percent.
The top-to-bottom review resulted in the Jobs4TN economic development plan announced in April 2011. This new strategy narrowed ECD’s focus to key sectors where the state holds a unique competitive advantage along with a renewed emphasis on assisting existing Tennessee companies that create the vast majority of all new jobs in the state, Brooks explained.
Other components included a decentralization of ECD with the establishment of jobs base camps in nine regions throughout the state, a $50 million investment in innovation through the INCITE program and a review of burdensome and business-inhibiting federal and State regulations, Brooks pointed out.
Some key results since implementing the Jobs4TN plan include:
To read more or download a copy of ECD’s 2011 Annual Report, visittn.gov/ecd/pdf/2011AnnualReport.pdf .
Brooks also advised House Speaker Beth Harwell has announced that 2012 geographic redistricting data can now be accessed and downloaded online. Geographic information system (GIS) users can now download the redistricting data in either Esri .shp files or Google .KML formats. Offering the data in these formats will allow users to overlay the boundaries in certain programs and to extrapolate statistical and other data from each district.
The electronic availability of these data products, in addition to the street-level statewide Google maps unveiled recently.
Brooks credited Harwell’s leadership in completing the complicated redistricting plan.
“The release of this data is in continuation of the House of Representatives’ commitment to provide the most detailed, accurate and accessible redistricting information to the citizens of Tennessee,” Harwell said in a prior statement. “All of this information can now be accessed from the General Assembly’s redistricting map website or from the State’s TNMap portal.”
Detailed individual district maps will be available in PDF format in the coming week.
Citizens can access the new GIS data at http://tnmap.state.tn.us/portal2/download.asp. The street-level statewide Google map data can be accessed at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/districtmaps/redist.html.