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Sanderson and Haslam share pro-business approach for state

Sanderson and Haslam share pro-business approach for state
By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
For several Obion Countians, Gov. Bill Haslam’s Monday night State of the State address was anything but a surprise.
They had already heard most of the points raised and plans revealed two weeks ago when state Rep. Bill Sanderson of Kenton was the speaker at the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Matters breakfast at the Obion County Public Library. Organizers said it was one of the largest groups of new local business representatives they have seen at such an affair.
But surprise was apparently neither Haslam’s goal nor Sanderson’s purpose. The governor and state representative, both Republicans who came to Nashville as new kids on the block in the election of 2010, were simply interested in getting out what they considered good news to the citizens of the Volunteer State as rapidly as possible.
Toward that end, Haslam had already laid out for the Republican caucus most of what he planned to deliver in his televised State of the State address and given them permission to take it home and begin sharing it.
As a result, Sanderson was able to reveal the governor’s plans for reducing taxes, benefiting education and revamping the state’s own labor force to representatives of the electorate with whom both the governor and the representative have a unique bond — business owners and managers.
Haslam, before becoming governor, controlled his family’s nationwide convenience store and travel center chain and Sanderson continues to direct his family-owned furniture and appliance business in Kenton.
Haslam’s emphasis — both to the caucus a few days ago and to the entire Nashville assembly of elected state officers, television audience, media and special guests Monday night — was on making Tennessee a business-friendly state.
To attract business with an educated work force, he emphasized the need to continue to improve that initiative at every level from preschool through college. He promised higher education institutions more funding for enlarging their campuses – naming specific projects devoted to science at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and at the medical units in Memphis, as well as noting the addition of funding to begin planning projects for several other campuses across the state.
He also pledged to keep increases in the cost of attending a state schools at a minimum.
Haslam called for a broader scope of commitment to success in local pre-kindergarten through high school classrooms — one that involves not just teachers and administrators but families and citizens who have not previously considered the stake they own and the responsibility they have for creating a viable work force in the state.
He promised to work with administrators and educators to refine the evaluation system for teachers and stressed his belief that Tennessee would become one of the first states to earn an exemption from the unpopular — and, some say, unattainable — No Child Left Behind federal mandates that were to have radically transformed education by 2014. That exemption will come, Haslam said, because the Volunteer State is moving in such a positive direction already.
He added that, with the waiver, the state can build accountability into the educational system in such a way that every school has a chance to succeed by doing better each year.
“Nothing is more important than the focus on education. We have to believe in something better for our children,” Haslam said.
A taxing situation
On the tax front, the governor pledged to reduce the state share of the tax on groceries from 5 1/2 percent to 5 percent over the next three years of his administration and to increase the exemption level on the estate tax from $1 million to $1.25 million, with the goal of making it $5 million as soon as possible. The governor claims such a move would stop the drain of citizens and their resources who seek less punitive tax laws in other states and withdraw from Tennessee, leaving the state’s tax base weaker.
Pointing to the need for a leaner and more efficient government, he outlined a revamping of the way state government hires and retains employees who are willing to give their best effort and said the state’s 22 commissioners had been working, at his insistence, to find ways to make the system leaner and more productive and he was encouraged by their efforts. He also promised state employees a 2.5 percent raise this year.
Sanderson noted, in talks with The Messenger following the address, that this was news the governor had not previously shared and he was delighted to hear it.
“There are lots of state employees in District 77 and I am pleased to see them receive this much-needed increase,” he said.
He indicated he was also pleased with the governor’s promise to invest $25 million in the West Tennessee megasite in Brownsville and said he had already begun to lobby Haslam heavily to complete the I-69 path through Union City as quickly as possible and to devote more resources to the port in Lake County, which was one of only two such projects to receive funding in last year’s budget.
“The governor knows what’s going on in West Tennessee,” Sanderson added.
More issues
Promising to keep citizens safer, Haslam offered his plan to get tough on domestic violence offenders, on gang violence and repeat violent offenders.
Sanderson also indicated his approval of that measure, noting the problems meth production was causing in this area.
Chosen to be one of the marshals for this year’s speech, Sanderson said he felt the governor’s message was generally very well received. He noted it lacked the “electricity” of the 2011 speech when there were 23 new freshmen legislators joining the newly-elected governor in Nashville, but said the excitement this year was not based on new prospects but on some solid results already produced.
“The state is in much better shape than last year, so there was lots of very optimistic news to deliver this time. I think the general tenor was upbeat. We met with the governor for an hour before his speech and discussed education. We’re really battling with that right now and the legislators are encouraging more communication with directors of schools. I think we’ve met resistance with educators because of a lack of communication,” Sanderson said, adding that he believed that failure would be addressed successfully.
“Unlike Washington, we are taking the necessary steps to keep our fiscal house in order. Clearing out areas of waste in government and providing a better service to Tennesseans are at the top of Governor Haslam’s agenda and I look forward to working with him in the Legislature,” said Sanderson.
Haslam closed his “state” address by pledging two things: “We will be relentless in providing the best at the lowest price, and on issues and policy, we will work to get the right answer and not just our own answer.
“I challenge all of us to believe in better,” he said in closing.
Published in The Messenger 1.31.12

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