Earlier this month, the 107th General Assembly concluded its business.
My goals for this legislature were the same ones I had when first elected: give the people of Tennessee what they have asked for: more jobs, less spending and smaller government.
Now, with partners like Governor Bill Haslam and Speaker Beth Harwell, we have truly been moving the conservative ball forward. I have often said that it matters who governs. Over the past two years, we have proved why.
In our first year of unified Republican government, we put conservative principles into action by instituting landmark education reform, tax cuts and smaller government.
This year we again heeded the call of voters to make government smaller, more efficient and customer friendly. These are things I have championed throughout my career in the legislature. But now, with a Republican Governor and Speaker of the House, we have become a transformational force for good government in Tennessee.
Representing the People
This General Assembly worked diligently and efficiently to get our work done on time – adjourning earlier than at any point in the last 14 years and using the least amount of legislative days since 1984.
This achievement not only saves considerable taxpayer dollars it restores the great virtues of our citizen legislature. To those who have only observed Tennessee politics for the last few decades it might appear the legislature got out “early” by adjourning in early May. This is a common misconception I intend to erase. We got out on time. Period.
Tennessee does not have a full-time legislature and, if I have anything to do with it, we never will. By allowing session to drag on into June or July year after year our Democrat predecessors succeeded only in creating more government and allowing the people’s representatives to get farther and farther away from their constituents. It is almost impossible to represent people with whom you are only tangentially connected or a community in which you only nominally reside.
Legislators should do the business the people ask of them in Nashville – and get back home. The cause of small, efficient and responsive government requires it.
Shrinking government and cutting taxes
This year, the state of Tennessee is budgeted to spend $31.1 billion – nearly $1 billion less than our current operating budget. These are real cuts, not the phantom cuts of Washington where removing anticipated increases in spending counts as a cut.
Tennessee budgeted conservatively this year. We worked with revenue that we actually had rather than “projected” revenue we “expected” to have. We balanced this budget much like you and your family balance your own. Unified Republican government did away with the gimmicky accounting of the past and relied on tangible revenue numbers.
Not only did we shrink government, we returned money to the taxpayers. We gave every Tennessean tax relief by again reducing the food tax – reductions previous Democrat regimes refused to make.
We also set a course for the ultimate elimination of the death tax – a tax that punishes small farmers and businessmen seeking to provide for the next generation.
Tennessee plunged a stake into the heart of this insidious tax that attacks the very essence of the American Dream. Unlike Washington, Tennessee plans for the future and encourages those in our citizenry to do likewise. I am proud that this General Assembly was the one that finally brought the death tax before the reaper.
Coupled with the elimination of the gift tax, this General Assembly cut taxes by more than $50 million this year, resulting in the release of capital and the creation of jobs.
Tennessee Republicans used to be limited in what we could do. Operating under a Democrat Governor and House Speaker, my office had to play defense against Big Government Democrats leaving across the board conservative governance as merely a dream for some future place and time. That place is here and that time is now.
Now, we have the numbers to enact our conservative principles. And with your help we will enlarge our majority so that no one stands in the way of true conservative government ever again.
Reforming State Government
One of our most transformative legislative achievements this session was the passage of Gov. Haslam’s TEAM Act. A revolutionary step in state government, the TEAM Act will help us attract, retain and promote the best applicants and employees in state government. Excellence will now be rewarded when it is achieved, just as it is in the private sector.
This year also marked the passage of our major unemployment insurance reform. Republicans heard the clamor and saw the need for legislation that results in job creation and we filled the void.
The Unemployment Accountability Act of 2012 strengthens the definition of employee misconduct to ensure that those who have been fired for cause no longer receive benefits. We instituted new work search requirements for unemployment beneficiaries, encouraging the use of existing state infrastructure to help return the unemployed to the job market.
Nothing cures both economic and social ills like a good job. Having a job doesn’t just fulfill a man or woman’s economic need but their spiritual need as well. It bestows upon them a sense of self-worth which permeates all aspects of life.
This reform will be a boon not only for job creators by protecting them from fraud and abuse – it also aids job seekers by pushing them towards the job market.
Another important piece of the Republican job creation package was our “loser pays” tort reform. Businesses don’t mind taking risks but they have to be calculated ones. “Loser pays” will free employers from the time and cash consuming drudgery of frivolous lawsuits and allow them to do what they do best: employ people.
The fight against addiction
This General Assembly has also taken on crime passing bills attacking domestic violence, criminal gangs and drugs.
Most important to me is the fight against synthetic drugs, which have become an epidemic in Northeast Tennessee. Many lives have been lost due to this scourge and I was proud to be part of the team fashioning a solution. Bills passed in this General Assembly banned chemical compounds used in illegal synthetic drugs, no matter how criminal chemists continue to modify them Our new measure will keep the law ahead of the drug pushers.
We also began a program to drug test those receiving government assistance. This will end the taxpayer subsidy of illegal drugs. We as a society are never going to prevent every motivated user from consuming drugs – but we certainly don’t have to pay for it.
This is why we constructed a constitutionally sound bill that will allow us to remove drug users from the welfare rolls while offering them help. This protects taxpayers and attacks addiction. It is a win-win for Tennessee.
While we continue to implement our new Photo ID law protecting citizenship at the ballot box, we have taken further steps to protect the rights of citizens.
While I’m a conservative who believes in personal responsibly and limited government, we as a society do need to provide some sort of safety net. However, that net must be for citizens only. That is why I aided passage this session of the Eligibility Verification Act. It ensures that only those in the United States legally receive any taxpayer-funded benefit.
Again, this is common sense but it was left undone by our Democrat predecessors.
Tax cuts, smaller government and job creation – this is conservative government in action. It is what Tennesseans asked for and it is what Tennessee shall get as long as you allow me to serve as Lt. Governor.
I humbly appreciate the support of all Tennesseans as the legislature continues to work hard to make Tennessee the best state in the nation in which to live, work and raise a family.
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