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State of business: ‘Waltz’ overshadowed many pro-business initiatives

Deb Woolley
Friday, Jul 1, 2005

It is not unusual in Tennessee for events or functions to end to the gentle sway of the “Tennessee Waltz.” It is a song that has long symbolized a conclusion, an end, a time to go home.

Unfortunately, it also rang through the marble halls of the Capitol, spurring a quick end to the 104th Session of the General Assembly. Only it wasn’t the soft melody we all know and love; it was the discordant chorus of handcuffs snapping shut as FBI agents completed a three-year sting. It is a sad memorial to a beautiful song and a productive session in which several major legislative initiatives passed that will support a growing economy and additional job creation.

And that, quite frankly, is what government should be all about. Good policy and good laws allow the business community to do what only it can do: create jobs and increase the wealth of Tennesseans. After all, it takes a business – a healthy business – to create and sustain a job.

As corporate citizens, we have the same responsibilities as every private citizen. We pay our fair share of taxes; we share responsibility for the quality of our environment; we support education; we contribute to the care of those who require government support; and we are involved in the selection and work of our elected officials.

In the 2005 session of the General Assembly, our legislators introduced more than 2,400 bills and 1,500 regulations – an all-time record. We are pleased that a number of important bills passed that will help grow our economy and improve our quality of life, and none of the bills passed that would have damaged it.

The Tennessee Chamber supports a pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda that proactively addresses issues that will help our state grow. First and foremost, the business community supported Gov. Bredesen in his efforts to bring TennCare under control. A well-intended program, it had ballooned out of control, consuming all our state’s revenue growth. The price was being paid by businesses and by individuals. The Governor’s perseverance and commitment to make the hard decisions is one that we understand and admire.

Our pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda also included three issues related to education. One of the greatest challenges facing employers and potential employees is being prepared to succeed in the workplace. All three bills passed the General Assembly and have been signed by the Governor. They address present and future education needs:

• The creation of a voluntary, statewide pre-kindergarten system is an investment in our children and in the work force of tomorrow.

• The expansion of the charter schools law allows greater opportunity for communities, parents and school district to customize education to meet unique needs.

• The commitment of $20 million for “Fast Track” infrastructure development and job training will ensure that today’s work force will have access to training to help them in their jobs.

There were several other bills that were important to the business community. Cracking down on methamphetamine labs is as important to the business community as it is to law enforcement and all our citizens.

Meth addiction and production is a plague that has infected our communities, our schools, our workplaces and our social fiber, and it will require the hard work of all of us to eliminate it. Passage of the Governor’s bill is a critical first step in this process.

Other important bills that will help our state’s economy grow and sustain our quality of life include:

• Compliance with the federally mandated State Unemployment Tax Act that prevents abuse of the unemployment tax law.

• Assurance that business representatives, like representatives of other groups, will be able to participate in appeals to the Water Quality Control Board.

• Delaying the implementation of the Streamlined Sales Tax will allow businesses have more time to prepare and will ensure that it is implemented at a time when it is not disadvantageous to the state.

There are a number of bills that will continue to the 2006 session. One of the most important ones is a small business regulatory flexibility act that would require any state agency promulgating a regulation to prepare a statement showing the economic impact on small businesses.

And, as we listened to the waning “discord” of the Tennessee Waltz, we all know that effective ethics legislation must be passed. It is our right as both corporate and private citizens to share our views with elected officials, and that is a right that must be protected. We don’t, however, need legislators legislating against lobbyists, and we don’t need lobbyists lobbying against legislators. We need legislation that defines acceptable relationships between lobbyists and legislators, and we need a system that ensures those relationships are open, enforced and reported to the public. After all, voters hold the ultimate accountability.

Deb Woolley is president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the largest statewide, broad-based business and industry trade association.

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