Reagan Administration Economist Arthur Laffer Speaks at GOP Retreat

Economist Arthur Laffer, widely known as the “father of supply-side economics,” spoke to House Republicans during their retreat this week at Tims Ford State Park.

Laffer, a member of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policy team, talked to the group about Tennessee’s economic assets, said Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the House Republican Caucus chair.

“Dr. Laffer has a wealth of data, research, knowledge and experience about how the different states compare with one another,” she said.

“One of the focuses he worked on with us was how Tennessee ranks with other states and what makes Tennessee so attractive to people to live here. We’re in a central location, we don’t have a state income tax, we are a right-to-work state, and states like that tend to have favorable economic outcomes.”

In addition to listening to Laffer and other guests, Republicans discussed ways to improve communications with their constituents and various items constituents are concerned about, including reaction from teachers about the state’s new teacher evaluation process, Maggart said.

The retreat, which is held every two years, was paid for with caucus funds, Maggart said.

Maggart didn’t have an exact number of lawmakers who attended the retreat Monday and Tuesday, but she said she had 55 RSVPs committed to attend at least part of the event and that it looked like most of those showed up, including Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.

The Republicans have a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Maggart, who was guarded about sharing what legislators discussed, said the lawmakers did not formally talk about redistricting, a subject of much political speculation. The discussions did include attempts to dramatically reduce the number of bills filed in the Legislature, she said.

“We talked about next year (an election year). I’m not going to unveil what we’re doing,” Maggart said.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney has said the state GOP’s goal is to produce a “walkout-proof” majority in the Legislature, meaning enough of a majority that Republicans would have a quorum even without the presence of Democrats in meetings. Republicans have a Senate majority of 20-13. Two more Republican seats in each chamber would be needed to meet Devaney’s goal.

Maggart said the Republicans have been working on their legislative package for next year, although she said she was not ready to unveil that now.

“We’ll be giving that information out when we get it ready,” she said.

Republicans have already been public about at least visiting issues such as changing workers’ compensation laws, oversight of the Court of the Judiciary, halting the extension of unemployment benefits, further monitoring regulations that may hamper business and enacting more tort reform measures next year. But Maggart made clear the party still believes jobs cannot be legislated, a position that puts Republicans at odds with Democrats, who presented a list of jobs bills this year with complaints that they were not seriously considered. Unemployment in the state is 9.8 percent.

Democrats have also scheduled a Jobs Tour for Sept. 19-24, and the state Democratic Party took exception Wednesday to the rosy picture painted by Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about their presentation to the major bond rating agencies in New York.

A release from the Tennessee Democratic Party quoted Chairman Chip Forrester as saying, “This bond rating dog and pony show for Wall Street executives looks obnoxious to the 300,000 Tennesseans who are struggling to find work and provide for their families.”

Maggart maintains that jobs cannot be legislated.

“We’re going to continue to concentrate on paving the way for job creation. The Legislature does not create a single job,” she said. “We want to do what we can to make Tennessee the most attractive state for small businesses to thrive. We want to decrease regulation on small business people.”

Maggart gave the handling of the new photo ID law, requiring photographic identification in order to vote, as an example of how the number of bills filed in the Legislature can be decreased.

“Freshmen didn’t know I was working on it for five or six years, so we can cut down on the number of people filing the same bill,” she said.

Republicans have drawn up a process, spearheaded by Harwell, where lawmakers can consult freely about their bills in a process that normally holds even the filing of legislation as a matter of attorney/client privilege. McCormick has also spoken publicly about reducing the number of bills.

On the teacher evaluations issue, Maggart said members are hearing about it from their districts.

“Teachers are concerned about it. They have questions,” Maggart said. “That was pretty much across the board. I shouldn’t say everyone, but a lot of people had heard from teachers concerned about the process.

“You know it’s going to be a concern because it’s new. It has never been done before. Certainly you’re going to have people who have questions.”

The state adopted a system where teachers will be evaluated based on a formula that relies heavily on classroom observation and student growth under the state’s value-added assessment scores.

Laffer is one of the authors of Rich States, Poor States, released by the American Legislative Exchange Council and issued in its fourth edition this June. Other authors of the book are Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal, and Jonathan Williams, director of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force for ALEC.

“He (Laffer) uses IRS data. That’s such a great data resource, because the IRS knows so much about you. They’ve got your address, know how much you make, how much your deductions are. He has been analyzing people who move, like him, and what the state’s economic status is. Ours is good. People move here from other states,” Maggart said.

“He contrasted all the good things about Tennessee and how we keep moving forward on those things.”

Laffer Associates, an economic research and consulting firm, is in Nashville. An effort Wednesday seeking comment by Laffer on the Republican retreat was unsuccessful.

Other speakers at the retreat included Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for communications for the Department of Economic and Community Development; a presentation on communications for lawmakers by a consulting firm; and a presentation by Public Opinion Strategies, which handles polling.