An Open Letter: The 4 Pillars of the New Majority
Senator Douglas Henry, a veteran legislator who is respected on both sides of the aisle, often says that the citizens of Tennessee were safer when the legislature only met every two years.
I am no longer sure he’s wrong.
The first session of the 107th General Assembly has been about 4 things: government mandates, raising government salaries, attacking public education & ignoring the jobs crisis.
I shudder to think what the second session has in store.
If one word could describe this legislative session, that word would be mandate.
HB 0368: Mandate on teachers’ lesson plans.
HB 0600: Mandate on local government ordinances.
HB 0051: Mandate on local school board systems.
HB 2008: Mandate on jury verdicts.
HB 1380: Unfunded mandate on local law enforcement.
HB 2016: Mandate on schools’ gun policies.
HB 2019: Mandate on professional associations & their group activities.
HB 0007: Unfunded mandate on elderly voters.
HB 0130: Mandate on teacher negotiations.
These are only a portion of the mandates placed on local governments, schools and business by the majority party. If this was just the “appetizer”, I hate to see what kind of big government awaits us in the main course.
Government Salary Increases
Lt. Governor Ramsey has made a point of saying how much money he saved the state by adjourning session a week earlier than usual. While I am happy we saved this $450,000, I am disappointed that the majority chose to spend this savings and more on raises for their staff.
The facts are these: while Republicans have been talking about shrinking government & saving tax payer dollars, they’ve also been handing out large pay raises to their staffers.
Governor Haslam handed out 11-32% raises to 14 of his cabinet secretaries-all of whom already made well north of $100,000 per year.
Not to be outdone, last fall Lt. Governor Ramsey secretly handed out 4-8% increases to 18 Senate staffers, while state employees went without a raise for the third year in a row.
So while I agree with Lt. Governor Ramsey that we need the best staff available in state government, I can’t justify large pay raises for a few select individuals while state employees go without & unemployment hovers at 10%.
Attacking Teachers & Public Education
When Tennessee won the Race to the Top competition last year, it was an accomplishment shared by Democrats & Republicans, businesses & communities, teachers & school boards alike.
What a difference a year makes.
One year later, Republicans have passed legislation aimed squarely at teachers, to the detriment of our public school system.
Republicans have taken away the job security of our veteran teachers, stripped their ability to negotiate for things like text books, janitorial services & basic school supplies, opened the door to for profit charter schools & nearly ripped millions from the public school system with a voucher proposal.
Lt. Governor Ramsey & his counterparts call this reform, but our teachers & the people of Tennessee know better. This is not reform; it’s regression.
Ignoring the Jobs Crisis
In 2010, Lt. Governor Ramsey & the Republican majority ran on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs. Less than one year later, the majority continues to bury its head in the sand and ignore Tennessee’s jobs crisis.
While 1500 people lost their jobs at the Good Year plant in Union City, Governor Haslam cut funds for the Department of Economic & Community Development- the lead job recruiting organization for the state.
While killing 12 Democrat-sponsored jobs bills, Governor Haslam & the Republican majority ceased job recruitment programs that brought international corporations like Volkswagen to Tennessee.
While people can’t find work, Republicans put 3,900 new jobs & potentially two more distribution centers at risk by threatening to renege on agreements already made between the state & Amazon.com.
Perhaps most egregious, while the state’s unemployment rate rose toward 10%, Republicans cut off unemployment benefits to 28,000 out of work Tennesseans. Thankfully, Democratic efforts restored these benefits so these individuals can feed their families for a while longer.
This is just a sampling of “the appetizer” served up by Lt. Governor Ramsey & the Republican majority. There are numerous other issues that could be discussed, but that would take all day.
Lt. Governor Ramsey & the majority party have full control of all three branches of government, so only they know what is coming with the “main course” in 2012.
What we know as Democrats, however, is that we will continue to fight for those left behind by this legislative session.
We will fight for the rights of the individual & local governments, against the unfunded mandates of the state.
We will fight for the working people of Tennessee; those who didn’t enjoy a posh raise at their job last year.
We will fight for a strong public education system. One that values it’s teachers & pushes it’s students.
Most of all, we will fight for the 10% of Tennesseans that are unemployed and the thousands more that are under-employed.
Make no mistake, while Lt. Governor Ramsey & Republicans may ignore the jobs issue, Democrats will continue to fight until every Tennessean can find work.
House Minority Leader