Nashville, March 27, 2017– Bills are starting to move quickly through the Tennessee General Assembly and committees are about to start shutting down as the 2017 legislative session approaches its end. Here are some of the latest updates from the Capitol.
More Options on Highway Funding May be Presented
Legislation meant to address the state’s transportation needs passed the in House Transportation Committee on Tuesday. The legislation is an amended version of Governor Haslam’s original legislation, which raises the gas tax to $.07 per gallon at the pump. It raises the diesel tax to $.12 per gallon at the pump. Now that the legislation has been amended, the increase in the gas tax is reduced to $.06 per gallon and $.12 per gallon on diesel fuel. The effort will now move on to be considered by the House Local Government Committee. The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved the bill last week. However, there was controversy in the House Transportation Committee about several members on the committee not being allowed to call for a “division” in the bill. They were asking that the tax decreases for veterans and the elderly be taken out of the Improve Act and voted on as separate legislation. This has traditionally been done when requested by a fellow legislator.
Also, many legislators (including myself) have been proposing that we do not raise taxes and reallocate sales tax revenue from automobile sales, etc. to the Highway Department. The argument being presented to us is that we do not want to “mix those funds” but that has been done on many occasions in the past. We have been over collecting sales tax for some time now and over collected (over budget) about 26 million just last month. I have had our District independently polled and there are only 24.8% in favor of the Improve Act as it is in that polling. I, personally, think it is wrong to raise taxes as the answer to a funding problem when we have had excess revenue for many months due to the fact that we have lowered taxes in Tennessee for the past seven years. That model is working for us.
Most of you know that I campaign when I am running for office on limiting government and lowering taxes. That is not just campaign rhetoric for me. I will try every avenue, including cutting spending, before raising taxes. I understand there are times that raising taxes may need to be done. However, I am completely opposed to it when we are already over collecting taxes from the citizens of our state. It is my sincere hope that other options will be given a hearing in this General Assembly.
Legislation to help expand high speed Internet into underserved areas is on moving through the House. The House bill passed through the Business and Utilities Subcommittee and full committee virtually unscathed and now waits in the Finance Ways and Means Committee. Likewise, the Senate version of the legislation is ready to be considered in the Finance Committee. The bill provides $30 million over the course of three years to private companies for the purpose of expansion. It also deregulates electric cooperative and gives them the ability to offer internet services.
Remains of President Polk may be Relocated to Columbia
Next Monday, SJR0141 will be considered by the Senate. The bill expresses the Senate’s approval to allow James K. Polk’s remains to be moved from the capitol grounds to the Polk Home here in Columbia.
President Polk’s will expressed his desire to be buried at his Nashville home, however, this home was demolished not long after his original burial. Polk was relocated to the capitol grounds in the 1890’s under the direction of the General Assembly. No other president is buried on capitol grounds anywhere else in the country. Instead, most are all buried at their homes or their ancestral home places.
As you Know, the Polk home in Maury County is a state-owned facility, so relocation of the tomb to the home would still allow visitors. Moving the tomb would also provide the opportunity for guests to visit both sites together and would honor the late president’s wishes by having him buried at one of his homes.
Any final plans to move the tomb need to also be approved by the Tennessee Historical Commission, an additional step which was put in place last session to help preserve historical sites within the state.
Health Care Division Talks TennCare
On Tuesday, Director Wendy Long and staff members from the Division of Health Care Administration and Finance testified before the House Insurance and Banking Committee about their proposed budget. The director and others testified about their strategic priorities, the fiscal year budget for the division, and the changes being made to Medicaid at the federal level.
The 2018 fiscal year budget increased by $500 million (federal and state dollars) over the 2017 budget. According to testimony, the increase was due to a pharmacy program, the rising cost of medical care, the rising cost of medicine, and federal regulations. The federal government sets a cost for certain individuals to be covered under Medicare. As a part of this plan, states must pay a premium for each member within the state, this increase is not within the state’s control. Another reason for the increase is a need to convert certain part-time positions within the division to permanent full-time positions.
Over 1.5 million Tennesseans are served by TennCare and the state has the 3rd overall highest quality scores in the southeast for its Medicaid services. This high ranking is attributed to the division’s priority programs. Four of these programs were discussed at the hearing.
At the federal level, the American Healthcare Act (AHCA) is being discussed. The act would replace the Affordable Care Act. The AHCA also would change the way the federal government funds Medicaid at the state level. As drafted the new act would change the mandatory eligibility requirements and mandatory benefits. It is still up in the air as to what the federal “repeal and replace” of Obamacare is going to look like and how it will affect our State. At this writing, it is still a moving target.
I so enjoyed have Lane and Luke Sutherland from Spring Hill Middle School on the House Floor serving as pages on Thursday. I look forward to others from Maury County joining us in Nashville in the next few weeks.