Friday’s Capitol Connection breakfast at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce brought together the county’s state legislative delegation to discuss issues coming before the Tennessee General Assembly that affect area small businesses.
State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) began the discussion with an update of state revenue projections and the current unemployment rate.
He said year-to-date revenues exceed budget projections by $251 million and the unemployment rate in Tennessee dropped to 8.2 percent in January, 3/10 of 1 percent lower than the national average.
State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) echoed Ketron’s positive economic outlook, informing the audience that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently ranked Tennessee first in the nation for low taxes and regulatory climate.
State Reps. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) and Rick Womick (R-Rockvale) both noted the tight constraints being placed on state funding during the economic downturn.
“If there’s a fiscal note on any of these bills, they’re not going anywhere,” Womick said.
Sparks, though, offered one budget item which he considered a top priority.
“The Motlow expansion should be the first priority for this delegation,” he said.
He also cited the expansion of the definition for illegal synthetic drugs as a priority in combating their sale and use.
Womick said his priority during this session is making sure changes are made to the new teacher evaluation system in Tennessee’s public schools.
“My passion: teachers,” he said.
Womick has sponsored a non-binding resolution requesting the state’s Board of Education to revamp the evaluation system, reducing the number of required evaluations and seeking more input from teachers.
Local attorney Bricke Murfree asked the delegation about its effort to reduce or eliminate the Hall Income Tax and Estate Tax.
“I represent clients who are considering whether to stay in Tennessee or move to states such as Florida in order to escape these taxes on their estates once they pass away.” Murfree said. “Should our citizens have to choose where they die?”
State Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) responded he is seeking in the short term a reduction in the estate tax, but that his longterm goal is ending the tax altogether.
He proposed making up the budget shortfall by expanding the sin tax to include establishments which sell pornography, noting that such establishments lower property values by an estimated 20 to 30 percent.
“This additional tax would raise state revenue by more than $50 million, making the elimination of the estate tax revenue neutral,” he said.
One attendee asked when the State Route 840 project would finally be completed and was informed by Tracy that “a ribbon cutting for the project is scheduled for Dec. 12, 2012.”
“Isn’t that when the world ends?” asked another attendee.
His comment brought uproarious laughter.