Johnson speaks about Tennessees successes and challenges
By Carole Robinson, Senior Staff Writer
"It is best of times, it is the worst of times,” State Sen. Jack Johnson said commenting on the contrast between local and Tennessee state government at a recent Lions Club lunch.
In his seventh year representing Williamson County in the State Assembly, Johnson reflected on the years since 2007.
That year the senate was split 16 Democrats, 16 Republicans and one Independent.
Lt. Governor John Wilder had been speaker for 36 years and was expected to get the Independent’s vote to continue his reign, but instead, one of the Democrats voted against Wilder and Ron Ramsey was elected.
On Jan. 11, 2007, “The first vote I cast was to vote for the first Republican speaker in 138 years,” Johnson said. “As a Republican, it’s an exciting time to be in state government, but it’s a big responsibility.”
In the past, traditionally the Democrats in charge were fiscally conservative, Johnson added.
Recently legislators have reduced taxes by incrementally eliminating the death tax, which will be totally phased out in five years, and the Hall Income Tax, which is also being phased out while legislators find a way to hold local governments harmless for their share of the Hall Tax money they receive.
“Tennessee is the 46th least taxed state and ranks 50th in per capita debt,” Johnson said. “You owe less [in state debt], as a Tennessean, than anyone else in the nation.”
Tennessee was voted the number one best place to retire and the state has a AAA credit rating.
The 108th General Assembly has been working to restore the state’s rainy day fund.
Currently there is $400 million in the fund, however financial advisors recommend the amount be close to $1 billion.
On the way to fulfilling Gov. Haslam’s goal of making Tennessee the greatest state to open and operate a business, workman’s compensation was completely overhauled, unemployment compensation was reformed and changes were made in the state civil service system.
The worst of times in state government is the state of K-12 education and the crime rate, Johnson said.
Nationally, Tennessee is ranked 46th in terms of student achievement and rated the most dangerous state to live.
Changes include teacher evaluation changes, elimination of tenure and collective bargaining and pay for performance.
Johnson admitted concern regarding the adoption of Common Core standards because of the 400 points of data being collected on school children and the relinquishing of state and local control.
“My concern, my strong concern is…I believe in the proponent of states’ rights,” Johnson said. “[the Williamson County delegation] support efforts to improve, being that we have really good things going on here [in Williamson County]. Many things going on in the state have negative affects in Williamson County. There is no harm in knowing how we’re doing against other states, but it’s a matter of relinquishing control.”
Bottom line, if the Memphis City School system is taken out of the equation, the state education rank jumps to 25. Memphis crime statistics also weigh heavily on Tennessee’s rank as the most dangerous state, Johnson said.
Posted on: 10/30/2013