Bill Lee: What does it take to make ’em happy?

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

On Monday evening, Gov. Bill Lee presented his State of the State address. Social media hadn’t weighed in yet, but we can guess the reaction.

Trumpsters will call Lee a RINO (Republican in Name Only). After all, he said, “Being pro-life isn’t just about defending the unborn. We must also think about how to use our passion for this issue to improve the lives of struggling families.” Lee will introduce initiatives that he says will make Tennessee a national leader in foster care and adoption. He wants every child to have a loving home. And yes, these bills will cost money.

Mask-wearing, socially-distant Covid fighters will do a facepalm and ask, “Why in the world is the governor announcing special events this summer in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties? These are sure to be super-spreaders, and 225 is not that big a birthday.”

Teachers will say a $120 million raise is not enough – especially when Lee wants to give all state employees a 4% raise. Teachers are left behind in raises because most counties hire more teachers than the state funds. And money for raises must be spread across all those teachers.

State Rep. Gloria Johnson posted last week: “We have two huge problems in public education in TN, a funding failure and a teacher shortage – and these things are related. We aren’t addressing either problem here.”

Main Street business owners (those who are left) will stand and shout for this governor. He said “many segments of our economy are more prosperous than this time last year.” Unemployment peaked at 15.5 percent but now is at 6.4 percent.

Lee acknowledged that many businesses are suffering and said to date grants of $30 million have been distributed to over 1,300 businesses; another $125 million of coronavirus relief funds has been reserved for supplemental employer recovery grants.

But look at the pluses: A recent report shows Tennessee is one of only seven states to have positive economic growth since April 2020 when much of our economy was shut down, Lee said. Tennessee is now recognized as the third least-taxed state in the nation. In fairness, Lee stands on 16-years of business management by Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen and that sales tax hike passed in the waning days of Don Sundquist’s term.

Lee is proposing to raid the state’s surplus for one-time expenses:

  • $900 million for capital improvements in state-owned buildings including college campuses
  • $200 million to extend high-speed broadband
  • $30 million for deferred maintenance at state parks
  • $21 million to support rural infrastructure and revitalize main streets in distressed counties.
  • “And (yet) when the dust settles on this year, our combined Rainy Day and TennCare reserve funds will be $2 billion – the largest in the state’s history,” he said.

Laid-off workers won’t like this (because Tennessee’s unemployment benefits are very low), but Lee is proud to have used the state’s federal relief dollars to “ensure the solvency of our unemployment trust fund, minimize the tax burden on employers and encourage hiring.”

As a result, he says, while over half of states have lost more than 75% of their trust fund value, Tennessee is entering 2021 fully solvent, at the lowest employer tax rate. Lee equates this to avoiding a projected 300% tax increase on Tennessee employers for unemployment insurance.

Lee ended his very good evening with a standing ovation from his Republican super-majority. But we noticed the social media tweets had begun:

“Open up the nursing homes so we can visit our loved ones! You are so selfish! They are dying by themselves and you don’t care about them! All you care about is sports and opening up bars and whatever to make money!”

And so it goes.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today. Frank Cagle will be back soon.

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