State Sen. Jim Tracy (center) speaks to attendees Feb. 10, 2012, at the Capitol Connection hosted by the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of the Rutherford Chamber)
Rutherford County’s state legislative delegation informed citizens of their efforts in the Tennessee General Assembly and fielded questions from area residents on a wide range of topics during the Chamber of Commerce’s Capitol Connection event Friday morning at the Chamber’s headquarters on Medical Center Parkway.
State Sens. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) joined state Reps. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) and Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) in attending the event, which began with a word from MTSU President Sydney McPhee thanking the delegation for their persistence and success in funding the university's Science Building project as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget proposal.
Carr then noted it was his quick thinking and cooperation with McPhee that brought Haslam to MTSU for a game between the Blue Raiders and the Vanderbilt Commodores, and he used the occasion to give Haslam and state officials a look at the sad state of the university’s current science facilities.
He blamed former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen for “draining the well of funding” for the project and credited the “new administration” with providing the necessary funding authority in this year’s state budget.
“Sydney called me and said he had a few tickets to the MTSU-Vandy game,” he said. “We let them see up-close the needs we have at the university and that popped the cork and opened the door for this project to get the necessary funding.”
Tracy and Ketron began by noting the current economic strength of the county and state.
“Our state’s debt is one of the lowest in the country,” Tracy said.
“Tennessee has seen 28,535 jobs created in the past year which is the highest number of jobs created in the past five years,” Ketron said. “We have seen a 5 percent growth rate for the past nine consecutive months and our year-to-date revenues exceed expectations by $221 million.”
The entire delegation agreed the state’s current and continued success is due to streamlining of state regulations on business by the Haslam administration.
“Upon taking office, Gov. Haslam ordered a top-to-bottom review of state government to clean out the dead wood,” Ketron said. “We are here to help business grow and not get in their way with needless regulation.”
He added the next step is to “tweak” the Hall Income Tax and the state’s Estate Tax, which is commonly referred to as the death tax, adding that his goal is to do away with the two taxes completely over time.
Audience questions focused heavily on the implementation of the new federal health care law, referred to by legislators as “Obamacare,” and Ketron noted that “25 percent of the new structure is required to be in place by Jan. 1, 2013.”
“All departments are behind because Washington is behind and if we don’t get it done on time the federal government will take over the process,” he said. “Simply the first steps of implementation of this law will cost our state $250 million and it will ultimately be unsustainable.”
“Our only real way to stop it is to get out and vote in November,” he said.
Sparks, for his part, focused on issues of human trafficking and drug abuse in the state.
“This isn’t just a Republican or Democrat issue,” he said. “Neither party even discusses social issues such as prescription or synthetic drug use.”
Carr closed the question and answer session with his opinion of the controversy over popular election of Tennessee Supreme Court judges.
“The Constitution is very clear – judges shall be elected by popular vote,” he said.
Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Bristol) both recently announced they will not seek to change the current appointment process for the Tennessee Supreme Court.