Press Releases

TCPR Ranks Cities for Business Friendliness

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Nov. 22, 2010:

Report scores business climate of Tennessee’s 50 most populous cities

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) today released its annual rankings detailing the business climate in the state’s 50 most populous cities. The report, How Business-Friendly Are Tennessee’s Cities? (pdf), ranks each city in three categories that reflect a commitment to encouraging business success and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit.

Based on its overall score, Mt. Juliet is Tennessee’s Most Business-Friendly City in 2010. The city’s high ranking results from its significant population growth and low tax burden, including the fact that it lacks a local property tax.

“In recent years, Mt. Juliet has shown an unmatched commitment to creating an economic climate that is both welcoming to new business and nourishing to existing enterprise,” said TCPR president Justin Owen. “The city’s inviting tax and regulatory policy has paid off, leading it to the top of the business-friendly rankings in 2010.”

Farragut, Brentwood, Spring Hill, and Franklin round out the top five. The state’s least business-friendly cities include Memphis, Dyersburg, Tullahoma, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge.

The three main categories for this year’s rankings are: Economic Vitality, Business Tax Burden, and Community Allure. Each category is comprised of a number of factors, including property and sales tax rates, job and population growth, median per capita income, cost of living, crime rates, high school graduation rates, and ACT scores.

TCPR culled data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Tennessee Department of Education, the state Comptroller of the Treasury, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among other sources. Each city was then ranked on a 100-point scale, indicating its friendliness to business.

“These rankings represent a reflection of certain cities’ commitment to creating a business-friendly climate free of stifling taxes and restrictive regulatory burdens,” Owen said. “We encourage all Tennessee communities to follow the lead of the cities with the most inviting business environment.”

The full report can be viewed online at or downloaded in PDF format by clicking here.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee by advancing free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.


Environment and Natural Resources Tax and Budget

State Golf Courses Still Laying Up Short of Profitability

A foursome of Republican lawmakers made headlines recently after a Nashville television station revealed they’d spent a leisurely legislative-day afternoon this spring out on the links.

In fact, a lot of golfers who might not realize it are shooting publicly subsidized  rounds when they tee off at courses owned by the state government, according to a recent report by a spending watchdog group.

Taxpayers, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research says, are getting clubbed for a portion of the greens fees.

Since TCPR began scoring the financial performance of state government-managed golf spots five years ago, the public has sunk nearly $7 million down the hole.

That may seem like a lot of green, but government administrators are quick to extol the management of their facilities. And one of the most worthwhile aspects of the tax-funded greenskeeping, they say, is that three government courses have won prestigious awards for going environmentally green — even as their budgets have spent years in the red.

Last month Fall Creek Falls Golf Course was awarded designation as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” for meeting “specific criteria in the areas of environmental planning; wildlife and habitat management; outreach and education; chemical use reduction and safety; water conservation; and water quality management.”

During the last budget cycle at Fall Creek, lawmakers teed up $731,000 for the golf course to operate. However, the facility is expected to only generate about $478,000 in revenue, according to numbers provided by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which manages the course.

By taking measures to qualify for the environmental sustainability award, the course will save about $1,400 in lawn care costs and reduce water usage by 16,000 gallons a year, according to TDEC.

Two other courses that have previously won the international Audubon award also operate at a loss. In the FY2008-09 budget year, Harrison Bay dropped $20,482 more than it earned in revenue and Paris Landing closed out $59,959 in the rough.

Tennessee is home to 11 state-owned golf courses. The government spent about $8.5 million last year on the facilities, while collecting only $6.9 million from users – a loss to taxpayers of about $1.6 million, concluded TCPR’s 2010 “Pork Report.”

“It’s not fair for Tennessee tax payers who don’t golf — many of them can’t golf — to subsidize those who choose to golf,” Justin Owen, acting executive director for the Nashville-based group, said.

Courses handicapped by low revenues ought to at least be charging user fees a fair ways closer to profitability, said Owen. And if the government can’t operate the facilities in the black, the fiscally sub-par courses should be sold off or leased out so the private sector can take a swing at running them, he said.

Jim Fyke, Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner, acknowledged in an interview with TNReport that “golf is in a tough time right now.”

“I’m not going to tell you golf courses, in immediate times, are going to start to make money,” said Fyke. He added that the Audubon award is “a feather in our cap when we’re getting our negative publicity on our lack of play at these courses.”

Furthermore, said Fyke, the courses are closer to solvency than the TCPR study suggests. All but three of golf courses are destination locations, or “hospitality centers,” situated near state-owned inns, restaurants, camp grounds, swimming pools, hiking trails, and marinas that attract visitors, he said.

Add up the costs of tourists’ golf fees, lodging, food and other expenses, and the recreational hubs are 99.1 percent solvent, said Fyke.

“It’s really, I think, a little bit unfair to single (golf courses) out,” he said.

Two Republican legislators, Rep. Joshua Evans of Greenbrier and Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, also looked at slicing the facilities this spring, proposing that the state lease or sell any courses that under-perform for two years straight.

The measure was never heard in committee.

Lawmakers tentatively agreed to get rid of two courses next year, anyway. The Legislature OK’d one-time funding for Old Stone Fort and T.O. Fuller golf courses in the latest budget, but will force the facilities to close when that money runs out in 2011 unless the General Assembly calls a Mulligan.

Courses handicapped by low revenues ought to at least be charging greens fees a fair ways closer to fair market value, said Owen. And if the government can’t operate the facilities in the black, the fiscally sub-par courses should be sold off or leased out so the private sector can take a swing at it, said Owen.
Press Releases

TCPR: Proposed New Fish Hatchery is Wasteful

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, May 26, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today called on state lawmakers to oppose a $16.9 million fish hatchery contained in the proposed state budget, along with all other pork-barrel spending. Governor Phil Bredesen and House Speaker Kent Williams plan to place the hatchery in Williams’ Carter County district. According to the Bredesen administration, the hatchery would create 22 jobs in the region, which amounts to roughly $768,000 per job.

“Leave it to government to turn $17 million into just a few dozen jobs,” remarked Justin Owen, TCPR’s director of policy. “In reality, this project is about one job: Speaker Kent Williams’ job.”

The fish hatchery is proposed as part of $341 million in “contingency” spending, meaning that the money is contingent upon Congress acting to send the state this additional funding. If approved, the state will spend $16.1 this year to build the hatchery, adding to the $800,000 it has spent on the project already.

“In Tennessee, fish is the new pork,” said Owen. “At a time when people are losing their jobs and the state is hinting at raising taxes, politicians want to dig a big fish pond in Upper East Tennessee. It would be humorous if it weren’t so true.”

The project represents yet another example of wasted taxpayer money at a time when Tennesseans can least afford it. It also encourages other lawmakers to press for their own government-funded projects, driving frivolous spending even higher. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research urges state lawmakers to avoid going down this slippery slope, especially during such a tough economic climate.

“If lawmakers really want to create jobs, they should lower taxes, cut spending, and get out of the way,” Owen said. “Throwing millions of dollars at political pet projects isn’t the answer.”

Press Releases

TCPR: An Idea a Day to Keep Big Government at Bay

Press release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, 12 Jan. 2010:

Forty-five legislative ideas for a prosperous Tennessee

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today made available in electronic version its most recent publication, An Idea a Day: 45 Ideas for a Prosperous Tennessee. The pamphlet offers one innovative free market idea for each remaining legislative day of the 106th General Assembly. Each idea is surmised in one brief sentence, followed by a link to original work published by TCPR on the issue.

Hardcopies of the pamphlet were provided to each member of the General Assembly last week. The electronic is now available to members and their staff as the Legislature embarks on the second session of the 106th General Assembly.

“When lawmakers look for solutions that will expand individual liberty, return taxpayers’ hard-earned money to their pockets, and reduce the size and scope of government, they now have a place to turn,” said Justin Owen, Director of Policy at TCPR. “We hope members of the General Assembly utilize this simple, concise resource as they conduct the people’s business.”

The pamphlet offers solutions in each of the following policy areas:

  • Budget
  • Education
  • Government Reform
  • Government Waste
  • Healthcare
  • Property Rights
  • Regulation
  • Taxation
  • Technology
  • Transparency
  • Transportation

The electronic version of An Idea a Day, complete with links to original TCPR work on the ideas offered, can be viewed by clicking here.

Press Releases

TCPR: State Must Start Using Available Data to Distinguish Good Teachers from Bad

Press release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Jan. 11, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today released a policy brief examining the education reform proposals currently sought by Governor Phil Bredesen.

The governor issued a proclamation last Thursday calling a special session of the General Assembly to address certain education laws so that the state could seek nearly $500 million in federal “Race to the Top” education funding. The special session will begin on Tuesday, January 12.

The main two proposals focus on reforming the process by which teachers are evaluated and restructuring the funding mechanism for post-secondary institutions. Because they will have significant long-term consequences for the state, TCPR analyzed the two proposals.

The brief, Evaluating Education Reforms for the Extraordinary Session (pdf), lays out a methodology for rating teachers that complies with both the governor’s wishes and the “Race to the Top” grant application requirements. The methodology was developed by the nonprofit Education Consumers Foundation, whose president, Dr. John Stone, is a member of the TCPR board of scholars.

“The state must start using the large amount of data available to it to distinguish good teachers from bad, and take the appropriate steps to ensure that students are learning,” said Justin Owen, TCPR’s Director of Policy. “The methodology outlined in the brief provides a unique opportunity to truly determine a teacher’s effectiveness.”

The second part of the brief scrutinizes the plan to tie higher education funding to graduation rather than enrollment rates and the negative impact that could have. TCPR also encourages lawmakers to use caution and fiscal responsibility during the special session, rather than make potentially devastating changes just to seize one-time federal money.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes the prospect of federal tax dollars to create meaningful education reform, but if done right, the legislature can revolutionize the way teachers are evaluated—and students, teachers, parents and taxpayers will all benefit,” noted Owen.

Business and Economy Liberty and Justice

State’s Regulatory Boards Don’t Handle Complaints Well, Comptroller Reports

A report released Tuesday by state auditors suggests some professional- and occupational-licensing boards aren’t doing a very good job of processing complaints filed against the business owners and service-providers they’re supposed to be overseeing.

“There are still few procedures requiring boards to document and record specific complaint information in a standardized format,” according to the performance audit (pdf) of the Division of Regulatory Boards.

The Comptroller of the Treasury’s report also noted that studies conducted in both 1999 and 2005 found similar problems. The Division of Regulatory Boards, which operates under the Department of Commerce and Insurance, has still “not developed the tools to provide themselves with the data needed to efficiently and effectively manage complaints.”

Many boards also don’t investigate license applicants for criminal histories, even though regulations require them “to be of good moral character, honest, and/or trustworthy and free of criminal convictions,” the report stated.

“We generally concur with the finding and did concur before the audit began,” said Mary Moody, deputy director of the Commerce and Insurance Department.

Nothing in the report came as a surprise to her department, Moody told the Labor and Transportation Subcommittee of the Joint Government Operations Committee on Tuesday.

A lot of the government’s problems boiled down to not having enough attorneys, Moody said.

The auditors added that “attorney workloads and board meeting frequency…may play a significant role in the timely resolution of complaints.”

“Complaint files show that boards’ administrative staff spend relatively little time on complaint intake and closure tasks. Most of the time a complaint is open occurs between the time the staff attorney receives the complaint file and when the board makes its final decision,” according to the report.

There are 11 professional regulatory boards scheduled to terminate at the end of June if the Legislature doesn’t extend their operating mandate. They included licensing-oversight authorities for auctioneers, barbers, collection agents, cosmetologists, funeral directors, security guards, land surveyors, private investigators, polygraph technicians and real estate appraisers and agents.

More than half the complaints currently under review or investigation by boards that oversee barbers (71 cases), cosmetologists (311), land surveyors (16), private investigators (45) and security guards (315), have gone unresolved for more than 180 days. The committee that oversees security guards hasn’t met since 2006, according to the audit.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt.Juliet, who chairs the Joint Government Operations Committee, said she doesn’t foresee lawmakers refusing to reissue statutory approval for the boards this year.

However, Lynn said she’d like to see the state initiate a thoroughgoing examination of whether Tennessee’s consumers and economy might be better served in absence of some of the licensing boards and requirements.

“I’m not a fan of occupational licensure unless it directly serves to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens, since the purpose of government is to secure those rights,” said Lynn.

Last year Lynn and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, sponsored an “Economic Civil Rights Act,” which called for eliminating any occupational board that in reality tends to function more as a protectionist barrier against new competition than as a safeguard against legitimate threats to citizens’ safety, health or rights.

“If you’re doing something that is potentially a danger to somebody else, then the state should have the power to regulate,” said Lynn. “If not, then a license requirement is often just an attempt to force people to jump through hoops. There are a lot of regulations like that which are meant for achieving good, but which really end up only hurting people economically.”

According to the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research, only nine other states have as strict or stricter regulatory burdens on entrepreneurs, merchants and service-sellers as the Volunteer State.

“While generally sold as a means to protect the public interest, regulations often exist merely to protect a chosen class,” wrote TCPR staffers in a statement delivered to a House committee looking into the bill last session. “This smothers competition and preserves a government-endorsed monopoly, thereby increasing the costs of goods and services to consumers. Reduced competition also makes it more difficult for consumers to receive the quality of goods and services they demand.”

Press Releases

TCPR: Medicaid Expansion Would Wreak Havoc on State

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Dec. 3. 2009:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today sent a brief to state lawmakers outlining the potential costs the proposed healthcare reform bills in Congress will have on the state. Both the House and Senate bills expand Medicaid eligibility, potentially devastating Tennessee’s budget. As a result, TennCare—the state’s Medicaid program—could become the health insurance option of nearly one in four Tennesseans.

According to the brief, titled “The Oncoming Tsunami of TennCare Costs” (pdf), the additional TennCare enrollees could cost Tennesseans as much as $1.4 billion. Governor Phil Bredesen (D), has properly referred to this expansion as “the mother of all unfunded mandates.”

TennCare already eats up a larger portion of the state budget than nearly every other state’s Medicaid program, and the proposed expansions would cause it to consume even more taxpayer money.

“The current rate of TennCare enrollment is unsustainable without a significant tax increase,” noted Justin Owen, the director of policy at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. “Opening the door to even more enrollees by expanding eligibility would wreak havoc on an already troubled program and the state budget.”

Rather than add to the TennCare rolls, Owen suggests free market alternatives that would reduce TennCare recipients’ dependence on government and protect taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

The brief offers two simple, yet effective solutions to the problem. First, the Tennessee General Assembly should seek a Medicaid waiver that would allow TennCare enrollees to take more control of their healthcare costs. Second, the state’s congressional delegation should urge Congress to replace the current Medicaid matching system with block grant funding.

“Congress successfully reformed welfare in the 1990s by moving to a block grant program, and they should do the same now to fix the Medicaid debacle,” said Owen. “The move would eliminate states’ incentive to throw more money at the problem rather than find real solutions to provide healthcare coverage to those unable to afford it.”