Hello, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.
Tonight, Governor Bill Haslam delivered his fourth State of the State Speech. While Democrats remain committed to working with the Governor where we can, we also have deep seated differences in how best to move Tennessee forward.
Democrats want to be proactive. So rather than focus on the shortcomings in Governor Haslam’s spech, we want to outline an alternative vision: one focused on jobs, education and people.
When it comes to jobs, Governor Haslam and Republican leadership have missed the mark. While national unemployment has declined to 6.7 percent, Tennessee’s unemployment rate remains over a point higher at 7.8 percent. What’s worse is that many rural counties, like Scott at 15.6 percent, Lauderdale at 12.2 percent and Wayne at 10.6 percent are being neglected by this administration.
What Tennessee needs is a new approach to job creation; one that isn’t focused on sending millions of dollars to big out-of-state corporations, but instead focuses on helping our Tennessee small businesses grow and create jobs here.
That’s why Democrats have sponsored a Small Business Sales Tax Holiday, so local businesses can get a tax-break to make major purchases like computers, software and other office equipment that will help them grow their company.
That’s why Democrats have sponsored crowdsourcing legislation—similar to that enacted by Republicans in Kansas & Georgia—called the TIE or Tennessee Investment Exemption Act. This bill would cut red tape and allow Tennessee small businesses to raise up to $1,000,000 annually without going through the burdensome process of registering securities.
That’s why Democrats have sponsored the Equity for Entrepreneurs Act, which would extend a $5,000 tax cut to new, small business start- ups. Every year, Tennessee hands out millions of dollars to big corporations; Democrats think it’s time mom and pop shops got the same consideration.
On no issue are Democrats & Republicans more divergent than in our approach to education. Democrats believe that a solid public education is the best economic investment we can make. Over the last few years, we’ve seen this Administration’s plan: attack teachers, raid public school funding and try every way possible to get students out of our public schools. Democrats take a different approach, one that focuses on getting more students in our schools.
A recent Vanderbilt study showed an 82 percent learning increase for students who had at least one year of pre-kindergarten, compared to those who did not. Studies across the country have shown the importance of Pre-K, which is why Democrats have sponsored the Education for All Initiative. This plan would leverage $64.3 million in federal funding to provide an additional 7,861 students the opportunity to attend pre-kindergarten. Other states have done it and so can Tennessee.
It’s also time to revisit Common Core standards. While Democrats have no objection to the standards themselves, we are concerned about their implementation. Across the state we hear stories from teachers about the lack of proper technology to administer tests associated with Common Core. From parents we hear heart-breaking accounts of students in Kindergarten, First & Second grade coming home in tears because of the harsh, inflexible testing imposed on them by PARCC and other assessments. Our children are our most valuable asset; we can’t afford to get this wrong. We must reevaluate these standards now, to keep our public schools strong.
My father, who for many years worked with our family’s small business, always told me that if he didn’t have people issues, he’d have no issues at all. People Matter and they are the most important part of what state government does.
On no issue do people matter more than Medicaid expansion. 34 days, $85,000,000 Tennessee tax dollars lost and this Administration is no closer to a solution for the 330,000 Tennesseans waiting on their chance at quality, affordable health care coverage. This is, as I have said many times before, the worst moral and mathematical failure of our state in a generation.
New information about the importance of Medicaid expansion emerges daily.
For small businesses, a failure to expand Medicaid will mean $75,000,000 in new taxes.
For hospitals, a failure to expand Medicaid will mean 10,000 jobs lost over the next ten years.
But by far, the worst news about the failure to expand Medicaid is what it means for people.
A failure to expand Medicaid means no mental health treatment for 17,000 National Guard veterans—many of whom served our country in the aftermath of 9/11.
A failure to expand Medicaid means no mammogram for 9,744 women who would have qualified for this preventative care under expansion.
A failure to expand Medicaid means 10,000 more cases of catastrophic care for individuals with no insurance—the tab for which will be picked up by local governments. This could easily be avoided in a more cost-effective manner, if these individuals had access to regular care through expansion.
Every day we wait, Tennessee loses $2.5 million federal dollars not to deficit reduction, as some would have you believe, but to other states who have expanded their Medicaid program.
And every day we wait, another two Tennesseans die because of our inaction. We can’t wait any alonger. It’s time to expand Medicaid now.
As Democrats, we’re also focused on helping make the lives of average, middle-class Tennesseans better.
That’s why our Caucus Chairman Mike Turner has proposed a modest increase in the minimum wage. With the stagnation in Washington, our proposal is simple: raise Tennessee’s minimum wage to $8.25, exempting employees under the age of 18 and any employer who provides health insurance for their employees.
Likewise, Rep. Antonio Parkinson has legislation to address the shameful backlog of rape kits that remain untested. His proposal would require testing of rape kits within six months and require the state to come up with a plan for getting through the current backlog.
These are our priorities: jobs, education and people. We Democrats, though small in number, are happy warriors. We plan to back our proposals up with facts, take our arguments to the public and do our best to contribute to the public discourse.
We invite all Tennesseans—Republicans, Democrats, Independents & Mugwumps—to join us in these priorities. If you want to know more about our plans, I invite you to visit the House Democratic Caucus website at www.tndemocrats.com or find us on Facebook & Twitter.
Again, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. Thank you for your time. God bless you and God bless the great state of Tennessee.