House lawmakers from across the state recently joined together to announce that Fitch Ratings, one of the country's top bond agencies, has officially name Tennessee the lowest debt state in the nation.
The news, which was released by Fitch, is based on an analysis of total debt ratios in all 50 states. The calculation is measured by combining each state’s total debt and unfunded liabilities and measuring them against the state’s average individual income level.
The special report from Fitch revealed that the median level for states' combined debt measures 7 percent of 2012 personal income. Tennessee's was lowest at 1.8 percent. The nation's highest percentage was Illinois at 24.8 percent.
Fitch plans to use the debt ratios as a factor in evaluating states’ credit ratings. Favorable ratings from Fitch and the other rating agencies means lower interest rates when the state borrows money, resulting in big savings for taxpayers across the board.
“There’s a simple reason why our state’s debt rate is so low — we borrow a small amount of money relative to the size of our government and we repay it quickly,” Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson said. “That’s a credit to our state legislators, who have managed our finances very wisely. They have helped keep the burden that future generations of Tennesseans will have to repay low.”
The award from Fitch complements other recent accolades given to the state which honor Tennessee's top-rated fiscal environment, including placing as the third best-managed state in the country by Barron’s Magazine and being named the No. 1 state in the nation for retirement by Bankrate.com.
These important rankings come on the heels of House lawmakers wrapping up one of the most successful legislative sessions in Tennessee history, where efforts were focused on cutting taxes, decreasing the size of government, and passing commonsense reforms that make it as easy as possible to start and operate a business in Tennessee.
With the second half of the 108th General Assembly set to begin in only a few months, this most recent round of business-friendly awards proves that in Tennessee, things are moving in the right direction. Through the hard work and dedication of Gov. Bill Haslam and legislative leadership, state government has been successful in coming together to attract job-creators, inspire entrepreneurs and put Tennesseans back to work.
State officials launch
Gov. Haslam joined with House legislators recently to launch Western Governors University Tennessee, an online school aimed at expanding access to higher education for all Tennesseans.
Passed into law earlier this year, WGU Tennessee was established to meet the needs of working adults who are looking to complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree through online competency-based testing. Currently, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a two-year degree or higher, and state officials hope to raise that number to 55 percent by the year 2025 through an initiative called the “Drive to 55.”
WGU Tennessee offers accredited degree programs in business, K-12 teacher education, information technology and various health professions.
Differing from most brick-and-mortar institutions, WGU Tennessee uses an innovative learning model called competency-based education. Instead of earning a degree based on credit hours or time spent in class, students must demonstrate their knowledge of required subject matter through rigorous testing procedures.
WGU Tennessee is being established with a one-time $5 million appropriation from the state. After initial startup, WGU Tennessee will be self-sustaining using only tuition and with no ongoing taxpayer funding.
For more information about WGU Tennessee, visit http://tennessee.wgu.edu/ or call 1-855-948-8495.
kicks off TENNProgram
Local entrepreneurs and leaders of Tennessee startup companies now have a chance to get more exposure and funding through a new state initiative called the TENNProgram.
The new program, which is part of the public-private partnership called Launch Tennessee, aims to identify and assist the top 10 startup companies graduating from the state’s regional accelerators — the primary resource offered to entrepreneurs to launch their businesses in Tennessee.
The program kicks off with a statewide demo day on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the Bridge Building in Nashville, during which the top 10 startup companies from across the state will be identified. Following this initial event, the 10 companies will embark on a statewide bus tour where they will meet with leaders of Tennessee’s top corporations. In addition, the group will fly to various states to network with venture capitalists and potential investors.
Companies that have graduated from one of Tennessee’s nine regional business accelerators in the last year can apply to be one of the 10 companies chosen to participate in the TENNProgram.
State’s agritourism industry
continues steady growth
Researchers at the University of Tennessee have released new findings that show Tennessee’s agritourism industry — which includes any agriculture-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch — more than doubled between 2006 and 2012, bringing in hundreds of millions of tourism dollars for farmers across the state.
In 2012 alone, the study cites, Tennessee agritourism visitors spent more than $54 million in farm visits and agriculture purchases from farmers in all areas of the state. In addition, the study estimates approximately 200 agritourism operators hosted in excess of 1.75 million people on their farms in 2012.
The most common types of activities and attractions that drew people to Tennessee farms, according to the study, were school field trips, pick-your-own product events, wagon rides, farm tours and retail farm markets.
To view the complete UT agritourism report, visit http://tiny.utk.edu/ATStudy.
Annual Sales Tax Holiday
wraps it up on Sunday
Members of the Tennessee House of Representatives are reminding citizens across the state that Tennessee’s seventh annual Sales Tax Holiday, which started Friday at 12:01 a.m., will wrap up another big year tonight (Sunday) at 11:59 p.m. During the three-day tax holiday, shoppers can save almost 10 percent on tax-free clothing, school and art supplies, and computer purchases.
During the designated weekend, shoppers will not pay state or local sales tax on select clothing with a price of $100 or less per item, school and art supplies with a price of $100 or less per item, and computers with a price of $1,500 or less.
For more information, visit www.tntaxholiday.com. The Tennessee Department of Revenue also assists consumers via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and through its toll-free hotline, 1-800-342-1003.