Governor Bill Haslam sang his swan song Thursday when he spoke to a thousand attendees at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) States and Nation Policy Summit held at the Omni Hotel December 6-8.
Haslam listed his accomplishments after seven years as Governor which included creating 378,000 private sector jobs and lowering the unemployment rate to three percent, the lowest level in Tennessee’s history.
ALEC is a conservative political organization of state legislators and corporate members with ties to a number of rightwing advocacy groups like FreedomWorks, the Family Research Council, and the CATO Institute. ALEC highlighted Tennessee in a recent publication, Rich States Poor States, and applauded its low tax rates, large tax revenues, and budget surpluses.
Haslam did some crowing to the crowded ballroom which gave him a standing ovation after his 15-minute speech. But he began his remarks by asking Tennessee legislators in the audience to stand up and be recognized. He thanked them for some good ideas they brought to his attention and subsequently introduced as bills in the state Legislature.
Here are some excerpts from Haslam’s speech:
“We have been the beneficiaries of several ideas that have been proposed by members who are with us today and for that I am really grateful.”
“It is a really interesting time for state governments. The conversation in Washington particularly around the tax plan I think it’s going to throw new light on what happens in various state capitols. I personally am a huge fan of the move that no one should deduct state and local taxes.”
“I think the pressure will come when some states that have a 12 percent income tax rate—by the way ours is zero here if anybody’s looking to move—“
“I think a lot of state capitols are going to have to ask ‘What are we going to do about the cost and size of government?’ In Tennessee we have worked really hard to grow our economy, to be the place that companies choose to be.”
“This legislature has done some things. We did tort reform in our very first year. We reformed the process for our workers comp and today if you are a business in Tennessee you pay almost 30 percent less in workers’ comp charges you did when we started this.”
“We worked hard to lower taxes. The business and franchise excise tax we lowered for manufacturers just this past year. You know for manufacturing jobs for every one we create they bring along another six or seven.”
“Jobs get created when people put capital at risk. We’ve created that environment and because of that we have way out grown not just the national economy but our own budget projections. So we’re ended up with that great problem of we’ve brought in more revenue than we were projecting.”
“We are really serious about having government work right. I think one message conservatives need to convey is this: we don’t think government is bad we just think it’s bad when it’s out of control.”
“We have shrunk our state employees about 10 percent but that average employee is actually earning about $10,000 more per year. We did away with our civil service system. We hire the person who is most qualified to provide great service and we see that turning up in customer service results.”
“We cut ongoing expenses we were spending money on. it totals about $600 million. We are spending $4 billion on public education because we have to give those folks preparation to be ready for the workforce challenges of tomorrow.”
“We’ve made some hard decisions. We had unemployment that was 9 ½ percent. Today we are at 3 percent, the lowest in state history and every county is below five percent.”
“Tennessee has the second or third lowest taxes as a percentage of income, we cut the estate tax, and we’ve cut the tax on groceries, tax on manufacturers. Our rainy day fund is the highest amount in history and last year for the first time in recorded history we didn’t borrow one dollar.”
“I take great pride in that we really do have a government that is focused on being as low tax and low debt and yet as high service as we can be. We have been laser focused on that and increased our peoples’ opportunities to have access to great education.”