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Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Chairman of the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee and on the Finance Ways and Means Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No new tax / no pork budget alternative should not be ignored

Someone asked me if I was at all concerned that the groups in my district not chosen to receive a community enhancement grant would be unhappy with me.

My answer, “Not at all.” In the first place, each has no possible way of knowing if I would have picked them or not.

Second, even in districts where legislators gave grants, the vast majority of groups were left out. Unlike most government grants, there was no fair notice, or process, by which any group was provided an opportunity to apply and compete for the money.

An alternative “no new taxes, no pork” budget that uses the revenue surplus responsibly is not only possible; it’s done. The budget fully funds the priorities outlined in the Administration’s budget while addressing legislators’ concerns.

Right now, I’m afraid the administration is winning the battle of convincing our local school officials that in order to fund education, we must have a $219 million tax increase. I think this alternative budget gives evidence that is simply not true.

The revised budget has several prongs: providing tax relief, funding the Basic Education Plan 2.0 at 50 percent (the same level the Administration is now proposing), and allowing state government to live within its means. Other highlights include:

No tax increase
No pork
3% state employee raise
Funds the last 1/3 of compression pay for state employees
Funds a crime package to increase penalties on sexual predators
Includes a $21 million farm grant program
Adds 136.6 million to the Rainy Day Fund
Allows $100 million for K-12 capital outlay improvements from lottery reserves
Restores $32.8 million in recurring road funding
$115 million dollar reduction in sales tax on food
$210 million dollars to higher education capital projects and operations

The money is here, it’s a matter of prioritizing needs just as families must do with their own budgets. And I know for sure that a budget with no new taxes, relief from the sales tax on food, and no pork is important to my constituents.

Currently, the state of Tennessee has a rainy day fund of $497 million, with a proposed $36.6 million to be added in the Governor’s plan. The state will have over $680 million recurring, and $833 million in one-time money. These over-collections and the unprecedented revenue growth that Tennessee is experiencing is certainly a reason to return some of the money in the form of sales tax relief on food. In fact, this is a unique opportunity to help everyone in this state, across the board.

Even after all these initiatives are funded, including reducing the sales tax, the budget has a remaining balance of $26 million in non-recurring and $5.4 million in recurring funds left over.

On Friday, I visited a dialysis clinic in Gallatin. Seeing the totally debilitating effects of renal failure is shocking. I havn't heard any word about funding the spend down program to aid patients disabled by this or other completely debilitating illnesses but it seems to me this is a community enhancement that is hard to beat.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tennessean Column

I won’t be sending a portion of the budget surplus back to my district in the form of community grants to government and private organizations - therefore I was asked to write this column.

Yes, this year Tennessee is blessed with another large budget surplus; $1.3 billion dollars in recurring and non-recurring funds. The plan seems to be to spend every penny and raise other taxes even more.

I feel the tremendous surplus, and the fact that our state budget even has the ability to grow at more than twice the rate of the economy, points out an important and obvious fact: Tennessee’s citizens are over taxed.

The Copeland Constitutional Amendment Cap restricts the rate of state budget growth to the estimated rate of growth of the economy. Thus, if the economy is projected to grow at 3%, constitutionally, this year’s budget may only be 3% more than last year’s budget.

The intent is to make sure spending is sustainable, and probably to ensure that the citizens will see excess revenue returned to them.

Due to the large surplus, and the plans to spend it, the budget is expected top the cap by two fold. Which only serves to point out the obvious; we are collecting tax dollars faster than the economy is growing – this should not be.

I feel we should recognize this opportunity to cut the sales tax on food, vote to restore and replenish what we had to take from various departments and local governments in lean times, save more for the future, and keep the state budget from becoming ever more difficult to sustain; thus proving to the taxpayers that we are faithful with their funds.

We should always strive to improve education but how much more would taxpayer dollars be multiplied by ensuring accountability?

We should not forget that the economy is cyclical, and consider the economic indicators before deciding raise the bar on spending to new heights.

Overall, economic growth is slower this year than in any of the last 18 successive quarters; consumer activity is slowing as well. It is true that industrial production is rising but unfortunately prices are increasing. Unemployment is very low and capacity utilization is creeping up; each of these events is often indicative of impending recession.

As I survey our nation and see angry taxpayers literally storming their state capitals as we did just five years ago, I can’t help but wonder as we seek to spend every penny of the surplus if the taxpayers will ever win.

Economic freedom is freedom itself. It’s freedom from stress and pressure, and the misery that sinks in when there’s more month than paycheck.

I can understand why compassionate legislators would want to help organizations in their district; however, we can justify giving other peoples money away all day long.

Personally, I can’t think of anything the residents of my district need more than a reduction in the sales tax. This would truly give money back to each and every taxpayer in a meaningful way.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Education Plan

The Governor has announced a $475 million plan for education in Tennessee. It calls for reworking the BEP funding formula, fully funding the cost of at-risk students, paying for student growth in the year it occurs, fully funding the cost of educating students who can't speak English, and paying 75% of the total for teacher’s salaries.

Many are asking how will reworking the BEP actually improve education in our schools? One concerned teacher told me that 90% of the students in her school are "at-risk."

The BEP is a funding formula not an education plan. It funds the expenses of the classroom; it doesn’t dictate what occurs in the classroom. It can’t change the teacher in front of our students nor can it improve classroom expectations or discipline.

Governor Bredesen’s plan calls for full funding for teaching at-risk students.

In Tennessee, the definition of an at-risk student is income based; defined by whether a student is entitled to the free and reduced lunch program based on his or her parent's income.

At the start of the school year, students are sent home with a free and reduced lunch form – income information on the form is not verified for accuracy. Not that anyone would lie just to get lunch but we’re basing a huge increase in state spending on that form.

In years past, the definition of an at-risk student was actually performance based; defined by whether a student was two or more years behind in his or her grade level for reading.

Under the income based definition, the number of at-risk students in Tennessee is very large. The 2006 Statewide Report Card doesn’t have an “at-risk” category. But it does state that 53% of Tennessee's 933,688 students are defined as economically disadvantaged; or 493,921 children.

However, according to the same report card, being economically disadvantaged doesn’t necessarily mean one is a poor student. For instance, 85% of economically disadvantaged high school students rate proficient or advanced in reading. For K – 8, 82% of the students rate as well.

Obviously, being economically disadvantaged does not mean one is intellectually disadvantaged.

So the problem is, how will we measure if the extra money is helping at-risk students? If being at risk is based on income, what if a parent’s income doesn’t improve year after year? Might we be better off simply giving money to the parents, improving their income, and decreasing the number of at-risk students?

I’m just being silly to point out that we need to look at test results, and teacher’s opinions of student classroom behavior and willingness to learn, to define at-risk. Not whether a student receives free and reduced lunch.

The concerned teacher above told me that there is an attitude problem affecting learning in our schools. She stated that while 90% of the students in her school are at-risk, most are well behaved and good students. Only 10% are actually two or more years behind in reading grade level; these same students are also the major cause of the majority of discipline problems. For these students, it is a badge of honor to receive in-school suspension where they literally do nothing all day. It is a badge of honor to be taken from the school in hand-cuffs by the police – sadly, these students are in middle school.

She’d like to see a helpful daylong in-school suspension program that actually teaches skills such as; how to behave in the classroom; how to study and do homework; research skills; reading and math skills practice.

Sure more money will usually make any operation easier to run. But somehow I think we should listen to teachers when it comes to at-risk students. More money will not automatically translate into better results if we're measuring the wrong factor.

Report card Part I: http://www.k-12.state.tn.us/rptcrd06/state1.asp?S=999
Report card Part II: http://www.k-12.state.tn.us/rptcrd06/state2.asp?S=999

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tobacco Tax Survey

Please respond to this one question survey on the tobacco tax.
LINK: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=585413811059


EDUCATION FIRST

The Governor has announced a $475 million plan for education in Tennessee. In a year when we have over $1 billion dollars in over collected taxes, the governor wants to raise taxes through a tobacco tax in order to fund his improvements to education.

His education plan includes reworking the BEP funding formula by shifting funds to urban areas. In addition, he proposes that the state fully fund the cost of at-risk students, fund student growth in the year it occurs, fully fund the cost of educating students who can't speak English, and have the state pay 75% of the total for teacher’s salaries.

He further stated his intention to use the broad powers currently in the law to make failing schools perform. Republican's noted that none of those things have ever been employed by the state. He also stated that we need to demand more from our colleges that educate teachers to ensure teachers specialize in the subject matter they intend to teach.

BUDGET FACTS

A few budget facts:

  • State budget in fiscal year 2002: $17.5 billion.
  • Governor’s proposed state budget fiscal year 2007: $27.48 billion.
  • In the past five years expenditures have increased 57%.
  • 2007 tax revenue growth; $939 million dollars ($439 million in recurring funds and $500 million in non-recurring funds).
  • $50,000/minute; the amount of money the state of Tennessee currently spends each day.
  • The State Funding Board meets next week; they are expected to announce up to an additional $300 million dollars over collected taxes.