Saturday, May 06, 2023

A Recap of the 2023 Tennessee Legislative Session

BY JUSTIN OWEN, President and CEO, The Beacon Center, April 26, 2023 - The first session of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly has adjourned. While this session received much infamous national attention, I am proud to say that important work still got done to protect Tennesseans’ freedoms. Here is a look at the priorities advanced by our advocacy partner Beacon Impact that passed this year.

Largest single tax cut in Tennessee history: In January, Beacon’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Council outlined a series of tax reforms that would make our state more competitive and business-friendly. Soon thereafter, Gov. Bill Lee and legislators proposed legislation adopting each of our tax recommendations, all of which ultimately passed. As a result, more than 140,000 small businesses no longer have to pay the state’s business/gross receipts tax, and the top tax rate for other businesses was cut by 37%. 

Another reform makes filing personal tangible property tax returns easier on small businesses by streamlining their paperwork, which can often cost more to comply with than they pay in the tax itself. And last but certainly not least, Beacon has long called on the legislature to fix Tennessee’s anti-competitive franchise and excise tax, which is tied for the highest corporate tax of all bordering states. Gov. Lee’s reform package fixed that problem. Along with a one-time grocery tax holiday of three months, these reforms returned $400 million in tax cuts to taxpayers this fiscal year and $150 million in ongoing tax cuts each year thereafter.

Expansion of parental choice: The legislature expanded the state’s education savings accounts program to families in Hamilton County, which has the third-highest number of failing schools after Shelby and Davidson County. And now families who previously qualified for the ESA program will be grandfathered in even if they no longer qualify because the program was held up by legal attacks for two school years. As a result of these changes, thousands more families will have access to schools that better meet their children’s needs. This is great progress, and we will continue to fight until every single Tennessee family has access to a quality education. 

Protecting worker freedom: On the heels of the Beacon-led effort to enshrine right-to-work in our state constitution, the General Assembly continued to enact legislation to protect Tennessee workers. Amid attempts by labor unions and federal politicians to strengthen union power in the workplace, a new law will require any company receiving more than $25 million in state tax incentives to protect workers’ rights to a secret ballot in unionization efforts. Unions will no longer be allowed to become certified by the card-check method that is rife with abuse and intimidation.

Another new law proposed by Gov. Lee prohibits the practice whereby local school districts use taxpayer money to collect teachers’ union dues directly from their paychecks. Beacon Impact has worked for three years to stop this practice so that teachers can keep their hard-earned money and taxpayers aren’t paying to collect dues for a political organization that does not align with their values. 

Making government work better: Beacon has been raising the alarm about local governments enacting zoning and property use changes as soon as they are merely proposed and without ever casting a vote. To end that practice, the legislature overturned a Tennessee Supreme Court doctrine known as the “pending ordinance doctrine.” Now, any change affecting Tennesseans’ personal or business property can only be imposed once it passes the local legislative body.

Another bill brought by our allies at the Institute for Justice allows food trucks to obtain a single statewide fire permit rather than having to go from city to city to obtain individual inspections for each city they may operate in over time. This drastically reduces the time and cost for these entrepreneurs to operate since their business is by its very nature mobile. 

Healthcare reform: The legislature continued the process of reducing the impact of certificate-of-need laws by merging two state boards that have oversight over new healthcare facilities and services. Another bill that passed will make it easier to access telehealth services for behavioral health. These reforms directly impact healthcare cost and access, issues that came up during Beacon’s statewide listening tour last year.

The above was reposted from The Beacon Center blog. Visit The Beacon Center at this link.

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Nashville earns a "D" grade for Fiscal Health

The above is from Truth in accounting.  TIA examined the financial health of the 75 most populous cities and ranked them from A to F.  In a numerical ranking, Nashville ranked number 63. Only 12 of the 75 most populous cities ranked lower than Nashville for financial health. To read the full report, follow this link

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Federal Government’s Financial Condition Worsened by $12.7 Trillion in 2022

From Truth in Accounting, April 19, 2023- A new analysis of the latest Financial Report of the U. S. Government found that the federal government’s overall financial condition worsened by $12.7 trillion in 2022. While this financial report provides a clearer picture of the government’s financial information than the annual budget referenced in the president's State of the Union address, Truth in Accounting believes this report is incomplete.  For example, while the 2022 reported budget deficit was $1.4 trillion, this audited financial report indicated the federal government had a $4.2 trillion deficit, which is called a net operating cost in the report. The report also indicates the federal government only owes Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries $207.8 billion. Truth in Accounting believes that the federal financial report should include a Social Security liability of $47.7 trillion and a Medicare liability of $64.3 trillion, which are the benefits to be paid over the next 75 years minus the related taxes collected. 

Unknown to most people, the federal government does not believe it owes any beneficiary any Social Security and Medicare benefits beyond the checks that are about to be written. That is why the Treasury Department only included $207.8 billion of Social Security and Medicare liabilities on the federal balance sheet. According to government documents, recipients do not have the right to any benefits beyond those currently due. Laws to reduce or stop future benefits can be passed at any time. 

Proper accounting records a liability if it is probable the amounts will be paid, and the amounts are estimable. Truth in Accounting believes it is probable that the government will pay the promised Social Security and Medicare benefits, and the Social Security and Medicare trustees estimate the amount of the benefits to be paid. 

Government officials have made repeated financial decisions that have left the federal government with a debt burden of $146 trillion, including unfunded Social Security and Medicare promises. That equates to an $880,000 burden for every federal taxpayer. Because the federal government would need such a vast amount of taxpayer money to cover this debt, it received an “F” grade for its financial condition. 

For more, follow this link.

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Friday, May 05, 2023

Davette Blalock is running for Metro Council

Davette Blalock
by Rod Williams, May 5, 2023- I ran into Davette Blalock at a function a couple days ago and she told me she is running for Metro Council. She had just recently picked up a petition and has not yet developed a website or had any campaign materials printed but she is in the race. 

Davette Blalock is a former member of the Metro Council formerly representing District 27. She served two terms, elected to the council in 2011. Blalock's professional experience includes owning a real estate business, Blalock Services, and a Farmer's Insurance Agency. While on the Council, Blalock was a hard-working exemplary Council member. She was also an advocate for limited government and lower taxes.  

In the redrawn Council maps, Davette lives in Council District 4, which takes effect with the upcoming Council election. Most of what is the new District 4 is currently also Council District 4 but with new boundaries. For Blalock this will be a new district, except for the one prescient where she lives. For the most part, she will be facing a new set of voters.

Currently District 4 is represented by Robert Swope who is term-limited out.  Swope is an unapologetic Republican.  He is a highly visible Republican and served as Tennessee state director for the Trump campaign. Swope won his last Council race with over 61% of the vote. This district is one of those that is competitive for a Republican. 

It is good news that Davette Blalock is running for this seat.  While the Metro Council is overwhelmingly Democrat and always has been, today's Democrats are a lot more woke and progressive than Democrats a few years ago. Thankfully, there are enough Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Council to keep the Council from going totally off the deep end. One may think the Metro Council could not get much worse, but it could. There are forces at work to make Nashville more like Portland or San Francisco.

In years past, election to the non-partisan Metro Council was pretty much a local matter and party identification was pretty much irrelevant.  Now, national left-wing organizations are pushing far-left candidates. Organizations like Our Revolution, Nashville Justice League, Women for Tennessee, LGBTQ Victory Fund, Code Blue PAC and LIUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America) work to elect left-wing candidates to the Council. For more on how these left-wing organizations worked to elect members of our Metro Council in 2019, read Look to these Council members to lead the push to make Nashville a more "progressive" city.

It matters who governs. It matters that we have some sane Democrats and a handful of Republicans on the Council. In 2020 when Mayor Cooper proposed a 34% property tax increase budget, as is usual the Council substituted their own budget for the mayors, which actually spend more money and reshuffled who got what. The Council's budget was sponsored by CM Mendez. One thing the Mendez budget did was slash money for police and public safety by $2.6 million dollars. Led by Councilman Russ Pulley, the Mendes budget was amended to add back the $2.6 million that had been in the mayor's budget. A lot of Council members abstained, and the amendment only got 21 votes, the bare minimum necessary to pass. One fewer sane Democrat or Republican and the defunding of police would have been successful. To read more about this, follow this link

As soon as Davette starts raising money, I will contribute to her campaign. If you currently live in the new 4th district, reach out to her and let her know you will be supporting her. Campaigns need lots of help. if you can help, call her and figure out what help she needs and what you can do.   If unsure if you are in the new 4th District, find out by following this link. You can email Davette at or call her at 615-485-6563.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2023

CM Thom Druffel explains why the new stadium deal is a good deal for the taxpayers.

Thom Druffel
by Councilmember District 23 Thom Druffel, April 26, 2023, email newsletter-  I have had a few questions come in about the Titans stadium project, and I wanted to send another email with more answers. Let me begin again by stating that this is not a decision on whether to build an NFL stadium. If that were the decision, I would look at it in different terms.

We have a stadium. Because of the 1997 contract surrounding that project, we are now forced to decide whether to renovate (at metro expense) or build new (at state, NFL and stadium user expense). Given those options, I am voting for the new stadium.

At-Large CM Suara and At-Large CM Allen have both posted opinions about why they do support the stadium. I urge you to read both of these for more information.

Here are the comparisons:


Metro owes $32M on past due capital repairs on the current stadium. There is no additional capacity from stadium related funds for capital repairs and improvement obligations. The Team assumed those costs and Metro is responsible for reimbursing them under the existing contract,

Metro owes an additional $30M under the current stadium debt obligation. Under the new proposal, the Titans waive this obligation. If it fails, Metro must continue to pay it.

Metro must fund renovations and repairs under the existing contract. Immediate stadium repairs totaling $362M plus an additional $235M in repairs projected over the remaining life of the lease, creating a total funding deficit of $229M and a total annual debt service deficit of $22M. Most, if not all of this, would require a payment through General Obligation Bonds funded by the taxpayer. Metro's outside consultants estimated that taxpayers should be prepared to fund between $1-$2B of renovation projects over the remaining life of the lease. Neither the State nor the Team are obligated to provide funding under the existing lease. Funding from the Sports Authority and Metro are not sufficient to pay for even basic capital repairs liability. It will come back to us taxpayers.

Under the proposed new stadium deal, the funds for construction will come from the State, the Team and from revenue bonds paid by dedicated sales taxes and ticket assessments. Property taxes are not a part of the calculations. The revenues anticipated by the dedicated taxes collected on the stadium and its uses are more than sufficient to cover the construction of the new stadium, along with the contributions by the state and the team. In fact, analysts have projected excess revenues. The 3% ticket contribution will go into the metro general fund and will be available for any metro use.

As an example of excess tax funds going to good use in the general fund, we were able to fully fund our metro schools for the 2022/23 budget despite shortfalls from the state contribution. In 2021, as Chair of the Education Committee, I was proud to recommend and approve a MNPS aspirational budget.

East Bank Development

The Stadium Project does not require metro to develop the entire east bank.

The rest of the area will be developed over a decade or so. A master developer will be selected, and the goal is to have the developer fund infrastructure of the campus.

The development of the east bank also provides some huge opportunities for our city. There was significant community involvement in imagining development of this area. Things like parks, greenways, affordable housing were high on the list.

The other piece of the east bank development is the significant increase in property tax revenue that will follow. Except for the stadium, the campus has basically been sitting as an empty parking lot, generating nothing in sales and property taxes. Metro will keep the property taxes and ground rents from development. Without the new stadium, we are locked into a parking lot, that generates little or no revenue, for the next 17 years.

Sports Betting

Someone asked about whether the new stadium was a way to allow the Titans to open an onsite, in-person sports betting venue. Online sports betting is legal in Tennessee and can be done by anyone with a smart phone. The Titans agreed to an amendment, both in the stadium and in the surrounding campus, prohibiting casinos unless specifically approved by the Metro Council and the Sports Authority.

To legalize casinos in Tennessee would require a constitutional amendment, which is a years long process. Governor Lee has specifically threatened to veto any expansion of in-person sports betting.

None of this was mentioned when Geodis soccer stadium, Bridgestone Arena or First Tennessee Baseball park were contemplated, and no restrictions are in place on any of those venues.

Increase in hotel tax for stadium v. other uses

CM Mendes mentioned voters deciding against using hotel tax to pay for a transit plan, and questioned why we would prioritize a stadium over transit. The truth is that they are not mutually exclusive. One does not preclude the other. The transit vote involved more than a sales tax issue-there was a question about whether a downtown tunnel, and all of the blasting and expense for that single site, would really provide a good transit option. The state authorized the 1% HOT increase for a new stadium only. Other than the Improve Act, the only way for the council to use HOT for transit would be to request and obtain state legislative approval.

The stadium proposal does not prohibit Metro from adding other hotel occupancy taxes and revenue sources that could be raised to support transit initiatives.

The proposed financing plan is designed to retire HOT-backed stadium revenue bonds as quickly as possible. The hospitality industry is carrying a massive part of the funding for the new stadium and would be a great partner on any new transit initiatives if designed as part of the right plan and supported by the public.

Sports Authority

Metro has been trying to negotiate with the state regarding control of the Sports Authority. Regardless of what happens going forward, legislation has been amended to ensure that Metro maintains control of the Sports Authority through appointment of the majority of seats and it does not go into effect until January 1, 2024. The current version of the legislation still gives metro a majority of the appointees, similar to other NFL cities like Tampa, New Orleans, Phoenix and Baltimore. But, even if complete state control did occur, the contract and bonds will be issued under the current Sports Authority and the terms of the contract are constitutionally protected from state interference.

Will the Titans leave if we do not approve a new stadium, and do we care?

Regardless of feelings about football, the fact remains that we owe a significant amount of money on an aging stadium. If we wait until 2028 to see if they leave, and they do, we have bypassed state funds and Titans financial contributions, and we are left with an aging and empty stadium. What revenue can be generated on the property at that point, and at what cost. For those who wonder whether these funds could be better spent on schools, transit and affordable housing, I would answer that while we have an immense need for improvement on these matters, the money coming from the state and the titans is available only for the stadium. So it is not a question of Metro priorities. It is a decision we are making in light of our circumstance: a costly renovation or a well-funded new stadium.

Rod's comment:  I supported the new stadium deal. Initially, I opposed it but as I learned more, I became a proponent. The facts stated in the above post by CM Druffel and a post by CM Courtney Johnston explain why the stadium deal was a good deal for the taxpayers. Many people I talk to were opposed and I understand the opposition. In principle, I do not think cities should be in the business of building sports stadiums. However, that is the world we live in and almost all are funded by government.  As explained by CM Druffel above, however, this is not about building a stadium or not building a stadium but whether to repair an existing stadium and remain in a bad deal or replace a bad deal with a good deal. 

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Monday, May 01, 2023

Tennessee Eagle Forum needs some help. Join me in helping this deserving organization.

by Rod Williams, May 1- Tennessee Eagle Forum, led by Bobbie Patray has been fighting the good fight for years. If you have ever met Bobbie Patray you cannot help but be impressed.  She is not only energetic, effervescent and effective and has a wealth of information about legislation and who's who in the legislature, but she is a caring good person. When she says, "I'll pray for you," I have the impression that it is more than just a way to express concern- I really believe she will pray for you.

Eagle Forum comes from the "religious right" or "social conservative" portion of the conservative spectrum.  I do not always agree 100% with Eagle's positions. I am a little more tolerant of vices than Eagle. However, I agree most of the time and am convinced that Eagle Forum has made the world a better place. To see a list of Eagle's notable achievements over the years, follow this link

Please read the fundraising appeal. Unlike a lot of slick fundraising appeals, I like the tone of this.  I want to help Bobbie Patray have ink for her copy machine. 

Click here to donate

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Gov. Lee Signs Bill Into Law That Requires TN Governing Bodies To Allow Times For Public Comment

By Jason Vaughn, The Tennessee Conservative, May 1, 2023– ... Regarding the need for such legislation, Senator Lowe said, “We have had some indications throughout the state, of election commissions, occasionally school boards, that are not providing adequate public comment in meetings that have an agenda with actionable items. This would make it by law, that they would have to provide a time for public comment.”

The bill also allows governing bodies to put reasonable limitations on public comment. (link)

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Sunday, April 30, 2023


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