In their weekly legislative summaries covering several of the same issues that are dominating news headlines across Tennessee, state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District, gave a thumbs up to an ongoing move by the 107th General Assembly to kill the so-called death tax and to reduce the sales tax on food.
The death tax, as it has become known to most because it involves taxation on inherited estates including farms and small businesses, has become a priority of this session among Nashville lawmakers, Brooks and Watson reported.
Both actions have the support of Gov. Bill Haslam who last week introduced a series of budget amendments for Fiscal Year 2012-13 that would support the eventual elimination of the death tax and the reduction of the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent.
"We were very pleased that Gov. Haslam has agreed to fund the elimination of the death tax and the reduction of the food tax,” Brooks said. “This is a double win for Tennesseans and again shows the commitment of Nashville to a brighter future for Tennessee. We have heard from constituents on both of these taxes and we are acting on those wishes.”
In his summary, Watson said both bills are supported by his constituents in the 22nd Legislative District which includes part of Bradley County, as well as Polk and Meigs counties.
“Tennessee House of Representatives lawmakers took a major step last week toward accomplishing longtime goals of everyone who is concerned about economic growth in Tennessee by advancing [these two] bills that will do away with the death tax and lower the sales tax on food.”
Watson and Brooks comprise two-thirds of the three-member Bradley County delegation. The other is state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville representing the 9th Senatorial District. Companion bills for the death tax repeal and sales tax reduction on food are making their way through the Senate as well.
Watson said he is encouraged by the death tax bill because it doesn’t stop with a reduction of the death tax; rather, it represents an eventual elimination through repeal over the next four years.
“The amended legislation includes a full repeal of the death tax, eventually phasing it out in four years’ time,” Watson stressed. “By 2016, the tax will be completely eliminated. Tennessee is one of only two states in the South with a death tax.”
The two state legislators pointed to the support of both bills by Haslam and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who agreed to focus on killing the death tax during this legislative session.
Both quoted Harwell in their legislative summaries which covered events of the House of Representatives from last week.
“The House Republican Caucus made repealing the death tax a priority this session because we know it will help family-owned farms and small, family-owned businesses operate with certainty,” Harwell said. “I look forward to continue moving it through the General Assembly.”
Also in their summaries, Watson and Brooks pointed to highlights of Haslam’s budget proposals for FY 2012-13. Some of the funding priorities include:
- $3.3 million to reduce the sales tax on food to from the current rate of 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent, which is lower than the governor’s original proposal to reduce it to 5.3 percent.
- $4 million to increase the daily per diem payment to local jails by $2 from $35 to $37.
- $1.4 million for mental health peer support centers across the state.
- $1 million for continued statewide family support services through the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in addition to $4.5 million of restoration in the initial budget proposal.
- $300,000 for maintenance of the West Tennessee River Basin Authority.
- $3 million to fund family resource centers across the state.
- $3.9 million to fund “Healthy Start” and “Child Health and Development” programs across the state.
- $250,000 for child advocacy centers in Tennessee.
- $250,000 to support the Amachi mentoring program for children of inmates through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
- $375,000 to fund a poison control center that provides statewide services.
- $5 million for Tennessee career centers to address the past practice of funding annual operating expenses with nonrecurring federal dollars.
- $122,000 to fund legislation that requires unemployment compensation recipients to verify their job search efforts.
- $115,500 to fund an online system to send businesses unemployment insurance notices electronically and to allow employers to submit relevant information electronically.
- $1 million for land acquisition and maintenance efforts at Radnor Lake State Park in Nashville.
According to Brooks and Watson, the governor’s original budget proposal restored more than $100 million of a total of $160 million in cuts to “core services” first identified as reductions in the FY 2010-2011 budget, but delayed until this year, due to the use of one-time federal money.
Brooks, who has a legislative record of favoring legislation that supports child development and maintaining quality housing and services for adults with intellectual disabilities, said he is supportive of the budget proposals.
“The Bradley County delegation has much to be thankful for in the governor’s new budget amendment that was introduced last week,” he said. “Important programs for children, seniors and DIDD (Department of Intellectual Disabilities and Development) programs are being funded.”
One residential program name familiar to most Cleveland and Bradley County residents that receives DIDD funding is Life Bridges, an organization that operates some 40 residential facilities in Bradley County. The latest is a pair of residential and medical units located on Kile Lake Road that have received favorable attention from Nashville and DIDD Commissioner Jim Henry.
Brooks is a longtime support of Life Bridges and its work in the local community.
The 24th Legislative District representative has been instrumental in developing the governor’s budget based on his committee and subcommittee memberships in Nashville.
“Serving on both the House Finance Ways & Means, and the Budget subcommittee, affords a local voice to be at the table and in the budget process,” Brooks said. “I am grateful to Speaker Harwell and Chairmen Rep. Charles Sargent and Rep. Mike Harrison for their trust in my abilities to serve on these important committees.”
Watson chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is a longtime proponent of legislation that supports law enforcement in Tennessee. The 22nd Legislative District representative also works closely with families who are victims of crime to legislate for their respective causes.
One of Watson’s ongoing law enforcement causes is the “I Hate Meth Act,” which took effect July 1, 2011.
“Efforts to combat meth in Tennessee are getting a boost from the governor who has rolled out a comprehensive statewide campaign designed to inform Tennesseans about the consequences of violating the ‘I Hate Meth Act,’” Watson said in his summary.
The governor’s announcement came last week in coordination with the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Nashville, Watson pointed out.
The “Meth Stops Now” campaign is a step in the administration’s public safety action plan and specifically addresses the portion of the anti-meth law that increases the penalties for making or using meth in the presence of children and for purchasing pseudoephedrine products for nonmedical uses, legislator’s summary explained.
“I applaud the governor for raising awareness about the tough new law,” Watson said. “I am very pleased the ‘I Hate Meth’ Act is doing exactly what it was designed to do; that is, to stop would-be meth cooks from getting the ingredients they need to make this dangerous drug. This awareness campaign will spread the word that Tennessee law enforcement stands ready to crack down on the manufacture and sale of this dangerous drug.”
Brooks, Watson and Bell were expected to be back on the road to Nashville early this week following the Easter weekend to resume the work of this second session of the 107th General Assembly. All three were also expected to be invited to Tuesday’s formal ribbon cutting at the new Whirlpool Cleveland Division manufacturing facility on Benton Pike. Ceremonies were to include keynote addresses by U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson and Whirlpool Corporation Chairman and CEO Jeff M. Fettig.