Tennessee continues to reduce debt by rapid rate
by Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson
May 18, 2014 | 633 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(Editor’s Note: State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District, have submitted a comprehensive recap of actions taken by the Tennessee House of Representatives during the recently completed second half of the 108th General Assembly. It is being published as a five-part series in the Sunday editions of the Cleveland Daily Banner. Today’s installment is Part 2.)

The Tennessee House of Representatives joined with Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson earlier this year to report Tennessee’s total debt fell during the last six months of last year by $347 million — or more than a third of a billion dollars.

Of that decrease, the state reduced the debt on its general obligation bonds, which are used to pay for most of the government’s capital projects, by more than $95 million. That represents a two-year decrease of nearly $190 million.

Lower debt translates into lower interest payments on money owed, which in turn, translates into substantial savings for Tennessee taxpayers.

The report from the Comptroller further enforces the fact that the conservative principles and sound fiscal policies implemented in our state are paying dividends for our taxpayers.

In addition, this news comes a few months after a report issued by Fitch Ratings, one of the country’s largest bond rating agencies, concluded that Tennessee’s debt ratio was the lowest in the entire nation.

House lawmakers support

amendment calling for

federal balanced budget

House members this year passed legislation calling for a convention of the states to consider a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The passage of the resolution follows several other states which have already passed or are in the process of considering the same measure.

“It is time the states take the power and authority granted to them by Article V of the Constitution and propose an amendment to rein in the reckless spending of the federal government,” said the proposal’s sponsor, State Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro. “It is crucial this be addressed, and Washington’s failure to act has the states taking action.”

Speaking this year to the National Federation of Independent Business at their annual Day on the Hill, House Speaker Beth Harwell endorsed the idea and praised the important effort.

“Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock with no end in sight, and has run up a debt of over $17 trillion,” Harwell remarked. “We need to send a message that in order for America to prosper, Washington needs to get its fiscal house in order.”

Other conservative leaders across the state also support the resolution, and have created an online petition through which citizens can voice their support at www.fixthedebt.us.

Twenty states have already passed a resolution calling for a convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment. Once 34 states do so, Congress is required to call a convention and set the date and location. Subsequently, 38 states must then ratify any changes to the Constitution in order for them to take effect.

House bill limit rule

reduces legislation filed;

bills lowest since 1986

Harwell, R-Nashville, announced earlier this year that the number of bills filed during this legislative session were drastically reduced due to a legislative reform package implemented last year designed to streamline operations and make the legislative process more efficient. After all bills for the year had been filed, records show a 36 percent decrease in legislation.

“This is excellent news and proof the bill limit is working,” said Harwell. “Our goal was to reduce the amount of bills filed to save taxpayer money, and to have members focus on prioritizing their issues so we can properly vet the legislation before us. I strongly believe good government is not defined by making more laws, and this reduction in legislation bodes well for Tennessee taxpayers.”

Bill filings this year came in at 2,497 and are at the lowest in nearly 30 years. In 1986, the 94th General Assembly, there were 2,077 pieces of legislation filed by the deadline. Filed legislation in the 105th General Assembly hit one of the highest marks, with 4,274 proposals filed. This year’s number is 42 percent below that high mark. The bill filing deadline is on the 10th legislative day according to House rules, usually falling in early February.

“Each time legislation is filed, there is an enormous amount of work done by staff behind the scenes,” according to House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin. “The bill must be researched and written by legal staff, sometimes going through multiple drafts. Our House clerks then work to put the bill into the system, and all of this cost taxpayers time and money.”

He added, “This bill limit ensures a more efficient, effective and accessible government that will give us more time for thoughtful, deliberate analysis on each piece of legislation — something taxpayers expect and deserve.”

House votes to protect

values in Tennessee’s

education system; ‘no’

to federal standards

This year, House members voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation protecting Tennessee educational values in schools across the state.

The bill, which passed the House 81-9 and with strong bipartisan support, seeks to address issues raised with Common Core and student data collection privacy concerns.

As passed, House Bill 1549 specifies that Tennessee is fully in charge of creating its own educational standards and ensures that none will be imposed on the state by the federal government in the future. The bill also requires that any data collected from the use of testing under educational standards can only be used for the sole purpose of tracking the academic progress and needs of students. In addition, any data collected by the federal government must be transparent and shared in an environment that is readily available for parents to view.

Heralded by proponents as a bill to correct fundamental problems with Common Core, supporters agree this legislation will go a long way in effectuating change in the educational initiative that has drawn the ire of parents, teachers, school administrators and advocacy groups nationwide over the last several months.

Additionally, this legislation was amended by lawmakers to delay final implementation of Common Core as well as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing.

Legislation overhauling

state textbook selection

process wins approval

House lawmakers approved legislation this year that will move the Tennessee educational bar forward by overhauling the way our State Textbook Commission conducts business while also helping to empower parents to become more involved in the daily lives of our students.

The State Textbook Commission, which is responsible for recommending an official list of textbooks for approval by the State Board of Education, has come under fire in recent years by parents statewide for having adopted books containing inappropriate language and controversial interpretations of historical facts.

House Bill 2249 is designed to remedy these problems by providing greater transparency and more public and parental input in the way textbooks are selected for use in our communities and local schools.

In summary, the bill has four major components, the first of which establishes specific criteria for reviewing textbooks by the Commission, including verifying information contained in the text is factually accurate.

Second, the legislation allows the Legislature to appoint members to the current governor-only appointed Textbook Commission, ensuring more legislative oversight of the textbook selection process with the input of Tennesseans across the state.

Third, the bill requires that any book currently being reviewed by the Textbook Commission or set to be reviewed in the future to be placed online for public review and public comment.

And finally, the legislation gives parents, teachers and local education experts who are knowledgeable on the subject a place at the review table by allowing them to be appointed to local textbook review committees.

Now that the bill has passed, this legislation will completely overhaul the way textbooks are chosen in Tennessee. Currently, the State Textbook Commission is not even required to look for factual errors in the reading. This new legislation will create a stronger, more accountable textbook review process that ensures our children’s textbooks are factually correct, free from grammatical errors and do not contain the historical inaccuracies we see in so many schools today.

Over the next several months, leaders in our state must continue to build on the momentum we are currently experiencing in moving the educational bar forward. By revamping our state textbook system and creating new initiatives to bring parents more fully into the selection process, we will better prepare our students for life after school.

By ensuring our students are equipped with sound educational knowledge, tools and resources, we help maximize their future potential in fulfilling their dreams.

By pushing to implement positive education programs like the legislation described here, we can continue down the path of making Tennessee the best place in the nation to live, work and raise a family.