Government & Politics

Tennessee — The Model for America

If America operated like our state, it would be fundamentally transformed for the better.

Robin Smith · Aug. 23, 2016

Tennessee, the 16th state admitted to the Union, is widely known by its nickname “The Volunteer State,” originating with its contribution of Patriots to the War of 1812 — and every contest for Liberty since. Tennessee’s official slogan is, “America at its best.”

Today, in many respects, Tennessee is a leading model for the rest of the nation. If America operated like our state, it would be fundamentally transformed by fiscal discipline, economic growth and competition. Those open market principles have been rejected by Democrat-controlled states, and the consequences are dire.

The Volunteer State has always had a carefully managed government due to its constitutional prohibition of an income tax and a requirement to balance the budget annually. But things began to change dramatically after the people of Tennessee declared it a right-to-work state.

In November 2008, the General Assembly began its departure from Democrat control. For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans held the majority in both chambers of the TN General Assembly. Then, in 2010, Republican Bill Haslam easily won the open seat for governor and gained the benefit of a conservative super majority in the House and conservative majority in the Senate. Notably today, both U.S. Senate seats are held by Republicans and seven of the nine House seats are Republican.

It’s no coincidence that in 2010, The Patriot Post’s home state began its ascent to the top of the pack in everything from fiscal health and integrity to classroom reading scores, as both the legislative and executive branches of state government committed to results, not intentions. The agenda for Tennessee was clearly to create and cultivate an environment to promote new companies to start, existing businesses to expand and jobs to naturally occur by removing barriers such as regulations, taxes and legislation that favored one aspect of industry versus another.

Tennessee was and is open for business.

On its state Economic and Community Development webpage, awards and accolades of Tennessee include:

  • The Brookings Institution ranks the state No. 1 for advanced industry job growth
  • Ranked No. 1 for foreign direct investment (FDI) job commitments in 2015 according to the recently released 2016 Global Location Trends report
  • Southern Business and Development Magazine named Tennessee the 2016 State of the Year for Economic Development based on its project totals and the variety of the industry sectors
  • Business Facilities ranked Tennessee the No. 2 state in the nation for infrastructure according to the magazine’s 12th Annual Rankings Report. Tennessee was also ranked No. 4 for workforce training

Those four notables were just in the month of August 2016.

In June, Kiplinger.com placed Tennessee at No. 4 in a recent analysis of the 10 Best States for Retirement. In May, Tennessee was named the “Fourth Best State in the Country for Business” by Chief Executive magazine on its 2016 Best & Worst States citing measures that included tax and regulatory regime, quality of the workforce and quality of life. Back in December 2015, Tennessee received the “Best State to be a Taxpayer” recognition by WalletHub.

The stew of excellence in a state founded on agriculture and commerce, features some knock-out intrastate rankings for its business environment:

  • Overall Ranking: Tennessee #5
  • Cooperative State Government: Tennessee #3 (tie)
  • Most Favorable Regulatory Environment: Tennessee #3

And for the state’s infrastructure and global access:

  • Overall Ranking: Tennessee #1
  • Certified Sites/Shovel-Ready Program: Tennessee #1
  • Competitive Utility Rates: Tennessee #1
  • Energy Reliability / Smart Grid Deployment: Tennessee #2 (tie)
  • Highway Accessibility: Tennessee #3

Oh, yeah, and the need for a skilled workforce has become a priority to existing and prospective employers. With a focus on results in the classroom and a Tennessee-driven set of standards that empower local school districts, the state has been the fastest improving in the nation according to the “Nation’s Report Card” for the years 2011 through 2015.

At this point, all sorts numbers, statistics and details could be reviewed, but simply understand that the principles employed in Tennessee have been the fuel in the engine to reach success.

First, collaboration and agreement were necessary in these achievements. While there are 95 counties in the state, there are only four major metropolitan areas. The state government polar star is a commitment for regional development and a decision that all ships will rise on the rising tide of economic growth.

Second, a commitment to those First Principles of conservatism is abundantly evident over the last 6-10 years — to hold fast on a balanced budget of prioritized spending with the understanding and accountability that the government neither possesses its own revenue nor creates jobs. The money in Tennessee’s Treasury truly comes from the spending and transactions of Tennesseans, not from raiding paychecks. The job growth and attractiveness of this state is due to its hard-working people willing to engage in learning and skill refinement.

The elected state folks did their jobs to terminate the “Death” tax that hit a family at least twice with levies on property and to begin the elimination of the Hall Tax, a type of income tax that disproportionately impacts retirees and venture capital investors on earnings from investments. The state departments have met the challenge to tighten their budgets just as Tennessee families have had to tighten theirs in the squeeze of the Obama economy.

While there’s a safety net of services for those in need, Tennessee has adopted its own Medicaid health insurance program through a waiver to hold costs down and rejected the pressure to expand the program from the Obama administration through ObamaCare. Learning and remembering the lessons of 2005-2007 that just under 200,000 recipients had to be removed from the Medicaid program due to its explosive costs and invasion of other needed areas of spending such as education, the resolve has been to hold the line on state health insurance.

Back in April, Tennessee joined several other states to resume its work requirements for Food Stamps to incentivize able-bodied adults to actively seek employment, another contrast between those states governed by principles versus popular spending.

Tennessee and other Republican-controlled states understand that a malignantly obese government crowds out the vibrancy and innovation of the private sector. The conservative philosophy is that the economy performs best when citizens have money to spend, not when agencies and departments of government are employed and empowered. Tennessee understands it’s competing with other states for new and existing companies’ commitments for investments and jobs, so taxing productivity and investment is, basically, stupid.

As taxes are being cut in Tennessee, the unemployment rate is at 4.1% and personal income is growing at about 5%. By the end of June, the State Treasury held $800 million more than the budget estimates from tax collections and, no, that one-time money won’t be spent on recurring expenditures — a perennial Demo-controlled state problem.

The reason Tennessee is a leader in America, along with other states that legislate to make the government smaller and more accountable, is pure logic if you believe in free enterprise and the power of human ingenuity and work.

America is at its best in Tennessee and other Republican states that value their people, opportunities to work and personal worth.

(Publisher’s Note: What Robin Smith has not said in this column, given her humility, is that she had a very significant hand in the transition of Tennessee from its failing Democrat Party model to its very successful Republican/conservative leadership model. You can read my profile of Robin, “The GOP in Tennessee — Getting it Right,” and how, as the former State GOP Party Chairperson, she paved the way for a conservative revolution in Tennessee.)

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