January 15 marked my first year in office, and while I’ve taken some time to reflect on the past year, it is now time to begin tackling the work that lies ahead of us in 2012. The General Assembly is back in session, and we are committed to working with legislative leadership to do our part in making it a productive and efficient process. I introduced my legislative agenda on the first day the Legislature convened, January 10, which was nearly 40 days earlier than last year.
My proposals are aimed at moving Tennessee forward through performance, accountability and efficiency. They’re focused on key issues important to Tennesseans such as jobs, education, taxes, public safety and efficiency and effectiveness in state government. They include:
• Tackling public safety issues through a comprehensive, multi-year action plan that addresses issues such as prescription drug abuse, tougher sentencing for certain gang-related crimes, tougher sentencing for gun possession by those with prior felony convictions and mandatory jail time for repeat domestic violence offenders.
• Providing more tools in the state’s tool belt to recruit and grow Tennessee jobs in a fast paced, globally competitive economy through strengthening the Department of Economic and Community Development’s FastTrack grant program.
• Giving local school districts more options in how they approach classroom instruction and teacher compensation by giving them more flexibility in making decisions to address issues such as hard to staff schools or difficult to staff subjects.
• Outlining Tennessee specific goals for measuring progress to replace the federal measurements as part of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver request and better defining the scope and focus of the Achievement School District in supporting Tennessee’s lowest performing schools.
• Restructuring 22 state boards and commissions to eliminate duplicative functions and provide more accountability and oversight of the agencies, which is a first step of an ongoing comprehensive review process.
• Updating and reforming the state’s antiquated employment system through the TEAM Act (Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management) by simplifying the hiring process, providing flexibility to retain and reward outstanding employees and streamlining the appeals process for employees.
• Taking a first step in reaching my goal to raise the state inheritance tax exemption from $1 million to $5 million by increasing it to $1.25 million to lower the tax burden on family farmers and family business owners as these businesses span generations.
• Lowering the state portion of the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent with the goal of lowering it to 5.0 percent in three years.
I am proud of this legislative agenda and look forward to working with the General Assembly to get these bills passed. This legislation reflects my priorities and is critical to our administration’s efforts to move Tennessee Forward. For more information about my legislative agenda, please visit http://forward.tn.gov. I appreciate the opportunity to update you on what I’m working on in Nashville, and as always, please let me know any questions, concerns or comments you may have on this or any other topic.