NASHVILLE, April 17, 2017– The week ending April 14th had a lot of action at the Capitol. Issues including broadband, in state tuition for illegal immigrants, education, health care, and transportation were just some of the topics we addressed.
On Monday, HB 529 established a 45 million dollar grant program for expanded broadband into our underserved and rural areas. Broadband access was one of the most important issues to my constituents as I talked to folks throughout the district prior to and during session. The bill was not ideal, as I would have preferred a more free market approach, but it was apparent that other options were not going to be feasible to pass in order to help our underserved areas. I view taxes as government taking property and liberty from individuals in exchange for providing, protecting, or enhancing our liberties. This bill will help provide and enhance liberties to Tennesseans.
Prior to session on Monday, Rep. Judd Matheny and members of the Conservative Majority Caucus held a press conference to express opposition to in state tuition for illegal immigrants. While I was still working at the hospital, I was unable to attend, but was there in spirit as I provided Rep. Matheny with quotes and research for the statement which I support. As I stated previously, the use of taxpayer money should be for protecting, providing, or expanding liberties of Tennesseans. When higher education is subsidized anywhere from 25-75% on the backs of Tennessee taxpayers, it is a state benefit. Taking liberty away from Tennesseans to give to illegal immigrants is a violation of our oath and is wrong, especially when there are cost effective alternatives that these individuals can obtain.
One argument I heard by one of the co-sponsors in favor of in state tuition for illegal immigrants was that, as a state, we have already “invested” in their K-12 education; therefore we should continue to “invest” so these students can be employed. There are two holes in that argument. First, by federal laws, we are required to provide a K-12 education; whereas higher education is a state benefit without those same requirements. Secondly, we have the Tennessee Lawful Employment Act of 2017 which I co-sponsored. https://www.tn.gov/workforce/article/employment-verification. In effect, anyone who hires these students with a taxpayer funded degree would be in violation of the law. So in essence, Tennessee taxpayers would be footing the bill to educate these students so that they could work in another state.
On Tuesday, HB 863, one bill that would have granted in state tuition to illegal immigrants, failed in committee 7-6 against. On Wednesday, a second bill, HB 660 failed 6-6 when one member was not present during the vote. The Education Administration and Planning committee is reconsidering their actions on April 18, but unless one of the 6 voting “no” changes their vote, the bill will once again fail. As I have stated previously, I have met those students and their advocates, and recognize that they are in an unenviable position often through no fault of their own. However, in state tuition at the expense of the taxpayer is not the answer.
The Tennessee Reconnect Act passed during the week, as well. The bill would allow adult learners over 24 to attend college in Tennessee for free in order to obtain a 2 year associates degree. While I am in favor of Tennessee progressing towards a more educated workforce, Tennessee has greater needs at the K-12 level. Currently, we have many unfunded education mandates, as well as education infrastructure needs in rapidly growing counties like Rutherford County. Those dollars could have been dedicated to our K-12 needs to free up county revenues to cover the mandates. Additionally, MTSU, which is the state leader in adult learners, does not produce two year associate degrees. Therefore, the funds would not have gone to MTSU. Understanding the drawbacks for District 48, I could not support the measure.
We adjourned my Health Subcommittee subject to the call of the Chair. One of our final bills, HB 290, reestablishes the Tenncare Advisory Council. Years ago, there was legislative oversight of Tenncare, but that responsibility was ceded to the office of the Governor. In my opinion, the lack of legislative control is a loss of the rights and privileges of the people. This bill is looking to restore those rights.
The IMPROVE Act, erroneously renamed the Tax Cut Act of 2017, passed Calendar and Rules on Thursday and will be heard on the House floor on April 19, ironically one day after your taxes are due. The original version, which was a 395 million dollar tax increase indexed to the Consumer Price Index, was soundly rejected by both the House and Senate. Many of those same folks who were telling us how great the original plan was are trying to sell us on the amended version that involves 347 million dollars in tax hikes with some offsets.
As I have previous explained, some of the taxes are paid by those traveling through our state, so, the net tax increase impact to Tennesseans is only 300 million at the pocketbook level. However, the net tax decrease to the average Tennessean is only 125 million at the pocketbook level.
There are three main tax cuts in the current House version. The Hall Tax Cut was passed last year, and it should be it’s separate, prioritized item in the budget. It is disingenuous to include this cut in the equation when we passed it last year. Therefore, the only two cuts we can honestly discuss are the grocery cut(125 million) and the Franchise & Excise tax cut(113) million. The F&E cut is targeted at manufacturers only with the bulk of the cut going to only 24 companies. Small businesses will pay the fuel tax increase, as well, but they do not receive a tax cut in the plan.
The bottom line is that the current amended version is a 300 million tax increase on the pocketbooks of families, our elderly, farmers, and small businesses, but only offers 125 million in actual offsets in tax decreases to that same population. For the current version to be pocketbook neutral to Tennesseans, the F&E cut must be across the board and there needs to be an additional 0.5% cut in the grocery tax..
As I stated above, when government takes money away from individuals in the form of taxes, government is in essence taking property and liberty. Therefore, the goal should be to provide, protect or enhance our liberty. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the the premise behind the gas tax hike or the proposed solution method, based on my evaluation, the current bill needs to spread the F&E tax cut to all businesses and come up with another 62 million in tax savings for the proposal to approach being pocketbook neutral.
Dr. Bryan Terry