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Ramsey Touts Accomplishments Under Republican-Controlled State Government

Statement by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; May 18, 2012:

Dear Friend,

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.

Protecting citizenship

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.

Sincerely,

Ronald L. Ramsey

Lieutenant Governor

Speaker of the Senate

 

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Governor Signs State Employee Workforce Recruitment, Retention Revamp

The state is overhauling how it hires and fires state employees, a move Gov. Bill Haslam contends “might be the most important” task his administration has undertaken since he took office.

Haslam signed HB2384 into law Tuesday, a bill that stresses employee performance over seniority, creates a worker evaluation system and paves the way for merit pay among top-performing state employees.

“We want to make certain that when we hire new employees, when we decide who gets promoted, we really are promoting and hiring those folks who can best serve our citizens. That’s what it’s about,” Haslam told an audience of 100 or so state workers outside Tennessee Tower, a 31-story building down the street from the Capitol Building filled with state employees.

Tennessee’s workforce is aging, Haslam added. The administration notes that 40 percent of state employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years, and those workers will need to be replaced.

The Tennessee State Employees Association originally fought the changes, which were handcrafted by Haslam’s administration. The union, which represents some 40,000 state workers, argued shifting employment decisions away from tenure would open the door to politically-driven hiring and firing decisions.

But even the tenure system could be abused, Haslam said.

“There’s a whole lot of unfilled executive positions right now in state government. … So if you just wanted to hire your buddies, you could do that right now,” Haslam told reporters.

The union eventually signed on in support of the bill after securing a 2.5 percent raise for all state employees, a say in developing the new evaluations and other concessions like ensuring tenure is still taken into account in hiring and firing decisions.

A press release issued by the Tennessee State Employees Association described the bill as an improvement over what was initially being talked about.

“State employees and their families can rest easier knowing important job protections that exist under the current civil service system are still in place in the new law,” TSEA President Phil Morson said in a statement.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey hailed the policy shift as suggestive of the kinds of reforms likely to occur going forward if Republicans continue to dominate elected posts in state government.

“Tennesseans gave Republicans a mandate to transform state government into an efficient, transparent entity that puts a premium on customer service,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a statement. “This landmark reform is incontrovertible proof that it matters who governs.”

The new law, called the T.E.A.M. Act, or the Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management Act, will be implemented in stages with use of the new evaluations taking the longest — until July 2013 — to kick in.

Mark Engler contributed to this report.

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Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Comptroller, Governor on Same Page in Seeing Need for Gov’t Workforce Reforms

The state’s top auditor is backing up Gov. Bill Haslam’s push to reform how Tennessee hires and fires some 34,500 state workers in a report calling the current system “fundamentally flawed.”

The 47-page “Special Report” from Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office says the state’s civil-service system is slow, lacks transparency and bases decisions more heavily on seniority instead of merit, which leads the public to “feel their worst fears are true.”

According to the report, “the system is either reflective of a general ineptitude in state government or the lack of transparency is intentional to ensure that only those with inside knowledge have the ability to ‘play the system’ and circumvent the processes that are purportedly designed to provide a fair and equitable system for hiring state employees.”

The report continues, “The dysfunction of the state’s hiring process is driven home to officials seeking new staff who discover on the back end of the process, after untold time and dollars have been spent, that the candidates, in spite of being rated favorably, in fact lack the essential skills to perform the job. The bureaucracy of the current system frustrates the intent of the laws seeking to promote fair employment practices.”

Haslam has been batting away criticism of his reform proposal, which he announced earlier this year as one of his top priorities. So far, the Tennessee State Employees Association has worked with the governor’s office to tweak the proposal, but walked away and then returned to the negotiation table.

Since then, lawmakers have raised several concerns about the overhaul, including downgrading the preferential treatment given to military veterans applying for jobs.

Halsam argues the changes are necessary to encourage government to perform more “like a business” and effectively address institutional inefficiencies in order to ultimately “provide the very best services we can at the lowest price.”

“When you live in a world without competitors, which is what government does…it is easy to not live by the rules of business,” the governor said after speaking to the Tennessee Hospitality Association Wednesday.

“Competition is what drives costs down in business, but you don’t have that factor in the government so sometimes it’s easy for costs to go the different direction because you’re not worried about the impact,” Haslam said.

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Haslam Bills Meet Resistance

Last week was trying for Gov. Bill Haslam after a number of his high-profile bills faced turmoil and criticism from both Democrats and the GOP faithful in the Legislature.

Haslam has dozens of legislative initiatives he’d like the General Assembly to pass this year, ranging from lowering the tax on food to overhauling how state workers are hired and fired.

Here is a breakdown of the status of some of his proposed bills:

Classroom Sizes Bill A Bust (SB2210/HB2348): Haslam spent weeks trying to sell the public on increasing pay for teachers in challenging schools and difficult subjects by letting districts adjust average class sizes. No dice. The governor dropped that plan after hearing teachers and lawmakers argue stacking more students in the classroom is a bad idea.

Ownership Trips Up Economic Development Bill (SB2207/HB2345): The administration wants to collect certain financial information on businesses wanting tax breaks but says companies will only comply if the state keeps that info secret. There’s been some resistance from the Legislature, where leaders say info on the winning companies should be public. Edits are in the works. The bill faces floor votes in each chamber as early as Thursday.

State Employees Steps Away from TEAM Act (SB2246/HB2384): Haslam wants to do away with “bumping,” which lets laid-off state workers take jobs of lower seniority workers, creating a domino effect. The state employees union says Haslam’s plan could lead to political hiring and firing and stopped negotiating with the administration. The bill is now in State and Local Government committees to be heard Tuesday.

Inheritance Awaiting a Price Tag (SB3762/HB3760): For all the Republicans’ enthusiasm for reducing the tax on inheritances, Haslam’s plan to up the $1 million exemption to $1.25 million hasn’t budged. The office that estimates the fiscal impact of legislation has yet to calculate the price tag for this bill, which is why it hasn’t moved.

Slice the Food Tax Also On Hold (SB3763/HB3761): Lawmakers across the political spectrum are hungry to reduce the food tax, although some want it cut differently. Haslam’s proposal would drop the 5.5 percent tax to 5.3 percent. Lawmakers have placed this bill on the back burner, parking it in finance subcommittees while awaiting an estimate of its fiscal impact.

Boards and Commissions Begin To Move: (SB2247/HB2385SB2248/HB2386SB2249/HB2387): The governor wants to eliminate redundancies by restructuring 22 state boards and commissions, including a panel that oversees Haslam family-owned gas stations. The Senate unanimously OK’d one bill shifting some duties from the Board of Probation and Parole to the Board of Correction Thursday, but two other bills have yet to be heard in committee.