Legislative Round Table on Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State Address
Manage episode 254567636 series 2623091
- Senator Frank Niceley of District 8
- Senator Rusty Crowe of District 3
- Senator Shane Reeves of District 14
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- “I enjoy politics, I enjoy helping people, and we’ve got a great state. And I’d like to think that in some small way, I was part of that.” - Senator Frank Nicely
- Farming today is harder than ever before because of regulations on farmers.
- We are way ahead on revenue collections based on what our projections were last year.
- Rural counties face different issues.
- “If you want to know how to vote on things, look around, find senators in the room that you respect, and follow their lead.” -Senator Reeves
- The Governor is putting money into fiber optics which is a big deal for rural areas.
- An important issue for the state is trying to figure out how to save our farms.
- Although the governor proposes a 4 percent pay increase for teachers, some of those school districts are not able to fully pass that increase to teachers.
- Senator Nicely says you can cut taxes and still have more money and the proof is in the state of Tennessee.
Announcer: From the politics of Nashville, to the history of the Upper Cumberland, this is the Backroads and Backstories podcast, with Senator Paul Bailey.
Senator Bailey: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Senator Paul Bailey. In today’s episode, we have invited state Senator Frank Niceley of District 8, and Senator Rusty Crowe of District 3, and my good friend, Senator Shane Reeves of District 14. The focus of our discussion today will be on our reactions to Governor Bill Lee’s recent State of the State Address, and other legislative priorities this session. Before we get started, I would like to invite each guest to us a little about themselves and give us their backstory. Senator Niceley?
Senator Niceley: Yes sir.
Senator Bailey: Tell us just a little bit about yourself and the good folks up in your district.
Senator Niceley: Well, I was born and raised in East Tennessee in 1988, I’d been farming for a long time and I needed to get off the farm and do something different, so I ran for office. And I served four years, and I wasn’t very popular with the Democrats back then, and I got beat and was out 12 years. Came back in ‘04 and I’ve spent 12 years in the state House, and eight years now in the state Senate, and I’m about as East Tennessee as you can get. I’ve got eight great-granddaddies that’s fought in the American Revolution, buried in East Tennessee, most of them in my district. My wife says that this proves that my family hasn’t gone very far.
But I enjoy politics, I enjoy helping people, and we’ve got a great state. And I’d like to think that in some small way, I was part of that.
Senator Bailey: I think you have been. So, tell us just a little bit about the difference between the House and the Senate.
Senator Niceley: Well, I said one time that when you go to the House, it’s like going back to high school. But when you get in the Senate, it’s like going to an old folks’ home.
I have to wake them up and tell them a joke [inaudible 00:02:11]. The House was a lot more fun, but I’m getting a little bit more done in the Senate. You call a Commissioner; they call you back a little quicker.
Senator Bailey: So, you think you have more respect being a Senator?
Senator Niceley: A little.
Senator Bailey: A little more respect?
Senator Niceley: A little more respect.
Senator Bailey: We also call you the Senate historian.
Senator Niceley: I am. I call myself the unofficial historian. McNally calls me the official historian, but I have not seen that on paper anywhere.
Senator Bailey: Maybe we need to do a resolution calling for you to be named the official Senate historian.
Senator Bailey: Well I ran into Sergeant At Arms the other morning, he said, “Senator Niceley, can I just say good morning and shake your hand without getting a history lesson?”
So, I thought maybe I’d better ease on the history a little bit. I do enjoy history though.
Senator Bailey: So, Senator Niceley, you basically farm for a living, is that correct?
Senator Niceley: Right. I do. Farming is kind of rough right now. They always said farmers go into a depression first and come out last, so I don’t know what’s—farming right now—is farm dead, farm suicides, commodity prices down. It’s hard right now. And that’s why I try to help the farmers down here, and I try to take off regulations, I try to open doors, let them do more things. Just like this year, one of my main bills this year will be letting the state take back over state meat inspection, take it away from the Feds. We gave it to the Feds back in the seventies. I don’t know why we gave it to the Feds, but Commissioner Hatcher agrees with me, it’s time to take it back. Every state to the south of us, they inspect their own produce and their own meat. So, that’s going to be one of my major pushes this year.
Senator Bailey: Prior to me coming to the legislature—and of course I remember reading articles about Frank Niceley from many years ago—you’ve always been fighting for the farmer and basically fighting to roll back regulations on farmers. And so, before I ever had the opportunity to meet you, I already had formed an opinion about you. And it was a good one, so—
Senator Niceley: And it changed, didn’t it?
Well a good example of what you just talked about was billboards. You can put billboards on land that’s zoned commercial or industrial, but you can’t put it on lands zoned agricultural. Why is that? I think if someone took that to the Supreme Court, I’d say that’s discrimination. You got one businessman who happens to be working on land that’s zoned commercial or industrial, that’s fine, but you got another businessman, he happens to be working on land that’s zoned agriculture, why can’t he put a billboard on his side? These billboards are big business. They can pay off the mortgage, keep a kid in school, helps in retirement. Billboards are big business, but farmers can’t—and they own all the land along the interstate. But you can’t put a billboard on lands zoned agriculture. So, that’s another push. I’ve got a lot of pushes.
Senator Bailey: You do push, and especially always looking out for the farmers, so we appreciate—
Senator Niceley: I’m looking out for people that don’t donate to me, and don’t know who I am, and can’t help me in any way.
Senator Bailey: Well, that’s the way we all should be. Senator Crowe—
Senator Crowe: Yeah.
Senator Bailey: Welcome.
Senator Crowe: Thank you. Proud to be here with one of the world champion equestrian people.
Senator Bailey: Well, thank you. I appreciate that.
Senator Crowe: My daughter is a brand-new veterinarian in Knoxville, and a horse lady, and she’s awful proud of you.
Senator Bailey: Well great. Well, so tell us just a little bit about the time that you’ve served here in Nashville and the state Legislature.
Senator Crowe: I guess McNally is probably the senior, our speaker, and I’m the second senior and I guess, Frank, you’ve got 20 years now in the legislature. Your House and your Senate together is 20.
Senator Niceley: Well I was here before you got here.
Senator Crowe: That’s right.
Senator Niceley: You came the year I left, I think.
Senator Crowe: I came in ‘90. ‘89, ‘90.
Senator Niceley: Okay, I came in ‘88. We served two years together back then. Yeah that’s right, I remember now.
Senator Crowe: Yeah, and then you came back.
Senator Niceley: Yeah, Art Swann’s been here. He got here in ‘84. McNally got here in ‘78. But they talk about needing term limits, we don’t need term limits. In the last 10 years, we’ve had 86 new House members and 26 new Senate members.
Senator Crowe: Well, it’s a whole lot different. We’re a citizen legislature. And so—
Senator Niceley: Well they starve us to death. They don’t pay us anything.
Senator Crowe: Yeah, that’s right. They don’t pay us anything. We don’t do it for the money, that’s for sure. You do it because you love to help people. But I’ve had kind of a strange beginning. I decided to run for office and the fella that was going to run and win this Senate seat didn’t file his papers properly, so we had people that had filed on the Republican side, but nobody had filed on the Democrat side. My dad’s an old bomber pilot—Bob Dornan, Howard Baker were friends—bomber pilot is a Republican, my mom is one of the old county farm Democrats, kind of like Jack Kennedy Democrats. Not like the ones you see up there now, that are trying to change our country into something our founders didn’t intend. But the kind of Democrat that Doug Henry was, that would work with us and get things done. So, when I decided to run, I had to run—I was too late. I got in after the filing deadline, and so I had to run on the Democrat side. And I couldn’t file, so I had to run a write-in campaign. And back then if you got 5 percent of the votes cast for Governor in the Primary, you could then get on the ballot in November. So, I got on the Democrat ballot and won that race first time since the civil war that a Democrat—we had won, up in Northeast Tennessee like that. And been there 30 years now.
Senator Bailey: And your home is?
Senator Crowe: Johnson City
Senator Bailey: Johnson City, Tennessee.
Senator Crowe: Got Jonesborough, the oldest town. And Erwin, and Elizabethton up that way.
Senator Bailey: Now Senator Crowe, one of the things we know about you is one of the most pivotal votes that you ever made in the state Senate, was what?
Senator Crowe: Income tax.
Senator Bailey: Income tax.
Senator Crowe: And actually, it wasn’t a vote. What happened was Marsha Blackburn got with Phil Valentine and had everybody running around the Capitol demonstrating, saying we don’t need an income tax. Well, what happened was, the House—were you in the House back then, Frank?
Senator Niceley: No. I was in the Senate.
Senator Crowe: Well the House held the board open for how long?
Senator Niceley: Hour and a half.
Senator Crowe: Hour and a half, and got their 50 votes. So, Sundquist then came to the Senate. Sundquist calls me and says, “I want to meet up in Johnson City in one of the restaurants, talk about income tax.” So, my secretary, Wilma, who’s deceased now, Wilma said, “He wants to meet with you for two hours at the House of Ribs.” I said, “Wilma, two hours, what are we going to do at lunch for two hours?” She said, “He wants to talk about the income tax.” So, we got in there, and I said, “Don, I can’t vote for any income tax.” I said, “It’s not constitutional in Tennessee. When we work for someone, we have a right to be paid. We only tax privileges, and the only income tax that is specified in the constitution was the Hall Tax, which we’re doing away with right now, thank goodness. We’ll have that thing gone pretty soon. And so, he kept going on and on and on, and I had been literally threatened that if I didn’t pass the income tax, they would let me go. How I’d worked with the University for, I guess, 23 years. And so, I looked at him finally, after almost an hour and a half, I looked at him. I said, “Governor, when you served with George Bush, like I serve with you now, and George Bush said, ‘Read my lips’ and then did the opposite, you didn’t do what you’re asking me to do. You stuck with your people and did what was right.” And that was the end of it, and when I did that the income tax didn’t go forward. And so, thank goodness, we had that situation. So, we don’t have that now. But I’ll tell you what’s interesting. We’ve done away with more taxes now. Everything from the inheritance tax, the gift tax, of course the income tax, almost all the professional tax, the hall tax, we’ve taken 30 percent off the food tax. But the more we’ve taken off—and Paul, as Chairman of Commerce, I’ve heard you say this many times—the more we’ve taken off, the more we’ve ended up like Ronald Reagan said, trickling down to our communities and our businesses. And tell them where we are on taxes right now. Tell them where we are on revenue.
Senator Bailey: Well, we are way ahead on revenue collections based on what our projections were last year.
Senator Crowe: Exactly.
Senator Bailey: So, it’s unbelievable.
Senator Crowe: So, it’s been a good thing.
Senator Bailey: So, Senator Crowe, it’s certainly good to have you here, and one more thing before we go to—
Senator Crowe: We’d better make sure they know I’ve changed parties, though.
Senator Bailey: Senator Reeves—yes, I going to make a—
Senator Crowe: I’m not still a Democrat. [laughing]
Senator Bailey: So, two things. We want to make sure that everyone knows that you did changes parties, from Democrat to Republican. And Senator Niceley is wanting to weigh in on something.
Senator Niceley: I just wanted to finish the story and say that Rusty stuck. He didn’t vote for the income tax, and the Governor did fire him after 23 years. And so Rusty had to take up another line of work. And we need to appreciate what Rusty did. I mean that’s—
Senator Crowe: And Marsha.
Senator Bailey: And of course, since this is a new podcast, we’re trying to inform our audience, and this is part of the backstories that we’re wanting people to understand. The backstories behind the story. And for you to be able to explain to people the story about the income tax, and especially the—
Senator Crowe: There’s some strange history with all these guys and gals in the Senate. When I changed parties, I went from being the Vice-Chairman of the Democratic caucus in the same month I became the Vice-Chairman of the Republican caucus. That is pretty weird. [laughing]. But, we’re not like Washington DC, we’re so different. We get along with everybody. Of course, we only have five Democrats in the Senate now, but we get along with them, and we help them if we can, and they help us if they can.
Senator Bailey: Well, if we have a little time, we’ll come back, and I believe you’re venturing into a new race, the congressional race? How—
Senator Crowe: Yeah, I’m going to throw my hat in there and run for the 1st congressional race, up in Northeast Tennessee.
Senator Bailey: So, it’s the House District 1 there, and the US Congressional District 1, and currently held by Congressman Phil Roe.
Senator Crowe: And he’s retiring.
Senator Bailey: He’s retiring, and so—
Senator Crowe: So, as the front-runner, I’ll look like a beat-up punching bag in about six months. They’ll be after me.
Senator Bailey: Well there’s one thing about it, Donald Trump, all the abuse he’s taken in the last few months, he looks very good. I hope you look the same.
Senator Crowe: If he can take it, by gosh I can.
Senator Bailey: That’s exactly right. Well we’re going to turn now to Senator Shane Reeves, who’s from Murfreesboro. And Senator Reeves, obviously we have been talking with some of our senior members of the Senate. But this is actually your second year in the State Senate, so tell the folks just a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, and your thoughts on being in the Tennessee State Senate.
Senator Reeves: Thanks Senator Bailey, I could have sat right here and listened to my wise colleagues in Senate all day and not said a word, to be right honest with you, but I’m glad to be part of this. So, I’m from Murfreesboro. I’ve got the 14th District with is Rutherford, Bedford, Marshall, Moore and Lincoln County. And, I’ve spent my entire life in Rutherford County, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed more about being a Senator than just about anything else is I’ve gotten to really, really know rural Tennessee. And love my rural counties. I just love my rural counties; they’ve got very different issues in those rural counties than we’ve got in North County Murfreesboro. It’s exploding. Rutherford County is projecting to be the third largest county in the whole state by 2050, passing Knox and Hamilton. So, it’s just growing like crazy. We’re building a school a year, and infrastructure issues. But those rural counties have got such different issues. And such, such good people. Just such good people. I’m a son of Rutherford County. I’m a son of Tennessee. My family has lived in Rutherford County for 240 years. Do you know that Senator Niceley? I don’t know if I’ve told you that.
Senator Crowe: It’s pretty good, Frank.
Senator Reeves: Two hundred forty years. I’m a seventh generation Tennessean. My children are eighth generation Tennessean. My family’s been practicing pharmacy in Murfreesboro since 1900. One hundred twenty years.
Senator Bailey: Yeah, so speak about that a little bit, because you have a family pharmacy, I guess, that was on the square there in Murfreesboro.
Senator Reeves: That’s right.
Senator Bailey: And so, is it still there today?
Senator Reeves: No, not the same one. I had a great-great-uncle that started a pharmacy in the square in 1900. Pharmacies change a lot in 120 years. It was all cash back then, and you worked with the doctors, and you mixed everything. You didn’t have all the big pharmaceutical companies either back then, you just made it all. And he got his son into it in the 1930s on the square, who got my dad, his nephew, into it in the 1960s, and then my dad kind of branched out on his own, who got me into it in the 1990s. And then around the 1990s we started having [ABMs 00:15:05] and pharmacy companies. My dad used to tell me in the 1960s, he said, “You know, son,” in the 1980s, he said, “A hundred percent of my business was cash. A hundred percent was cash.” And he said, “Every single drug that was on the shelf in the pharmacy,” he said, “you’d just leave it up there until it literally crumbled and fell off on the floor. Because you didn’t have quite all the same regulations that we’ve got nowadays. So, the most recent iteration of our business really was one that I started, which was just a retail pharmacy business called Reeves-Sain Drug store, in the ‘80s. And me and my former business partner, Senator Bailey, we did everything you can imagine in pharmacy [inaudible 00:15:43]. We did medical equipment and oxygen, IV’s and enteral nutrition. Made some money, lost some money. Had some good ideas, had some lousy ideas. Hired some good people, hired some not so good people.
Senator Bailey: We’ve all been down that road.
Senator Niceley: Yeah but you helped a lot of people.
Senator Reeves: That’s right. It’s a good crucible, it’s a good classroom for training for this public service job I’ve had. And I wouldn’t be sitting here—I don’t know if I’ve told you guys this—I wouldn’t be sitting here except in November of 2017, the former senator in this seat was Jim Tracy. You all worked with Tracy, who’s now a USDA Federal Commissioner of Agriculture.
Senator Crowe: Trump appointee.
Senator Niceley: He’s over there at the Rural Development which is a half of USDA in Tennessee.
Senator Reeves: That’s right. He came to see me, literally, in late October 2017 and said, “I want to talk to you about doing something.” He said, “I’m going to take this job with the Trump administration, and I want you to consider running for my state Senate seat.” And I said, “Tracy, I can’t do that. I’ve got this business I’m doing; I’ve got three kids at home; I’ve got all this stuff happening.” And he said, “Well, it’s a special election. You’re never going to have an easier election in your life than a special election. If you want to do it,” he said, “how hard could it be?” [laughing] So, I talked to my wife about it, and we prayed about it, and I talked to my business partners about it, and I said, “Tracy, how much time do I have to make a decision?” He said, “You’ve got three days.” He said, “I’m announcing Friday.” He came to see me on Tuesday. So, I jumped into this thing, and that was November of ‘17 and it was just wide open. I had a primary in January of ‘18, I got elected in the general of March of ‘18, I haven’t even been here two years. And by the time I got here in March of ‘18 and met you guys and found the bathrooms and the break rooms and the committee rooms, we were done. And got back home. McNally told me this, though, when I got here in March or April ‘18. I said, “Any advice that you can give me?” He said, “Two things in a special election.” He said, “Number one, keep your head down, keep your mouth shut early on. Just listen, don’t motion, don’t vote, just—He said, “If you want to know how to vote on things, look around, find senators in the room that you respect, and follow their lead.”
Senator Niceley: Well he sat you beside me, and that—
Senator Reeves: He sat me right next to Niceley.
Senator Niceley: and that helped a lot
Senator Reeves: I questioned that. I questioned next to Bailey. And the second thing he said was, “Find an area that you can become an expert in. And really, really focus on that,” he said, “because that will ultimately determine bills that come your way.” My friends, that has been the case. Because last year—healthcare is my background—so last year I carried some healthcare bills. I have had so many healthcare bills come my way this year, I’m swimming for my life. To try to slow it down.
Senator Crowe: And as Chairman of the Committee, I can tell you, it’s funny how, you talk about the pharmaceutical-type bills, the opioid crisis and all that, and all this is coming to us right now. One of the things that the Governor’s speech dealt with last night is the dollars we’re going to be spending on behavioral health and things like that, for these kids. The new generation coming from the opioid families and the drug addicted families, we’re going to have to spend—it’s kind of like the old Fram commercial, Senator Reeves and I were talking, it used to be, you had that commercial to buy a filter for your car. If you don’t—pay me now or pay me later. Same thing, we’ve got to put all these dollars—fewer dollars, it’s an investment to our future. We’d have to spend so much more when they’re older, when they get off track. But it goes together, doesn’t it, Shane? The pharmaceutical bills you carried, all that stuff, we’ve got to get that under control. We’ve tried real hard to get the drug situation under control. We’ve done a good job. I’ll tell you what’s interesting. The prescription drug abuse is down, and so from a Health Committee perspective, that you and I serve on, we’ve got that under control. But the overdoses and the deaths are up, because it’s now shifted to the Judiciary Committee, where we now see people getting Heroin, and Fentanyl, and Meth, and Cocaine off the street, because we’ve slowed down the other. And so, it’s shifted from my Committee over to Senator Bell’s Committee.
Senator Bailey: Right, Judiciary.
Senator Crowe: Judiciary, where the enforcement is going to have to take place. It’s a really interesting scenario.
Senator Bailey: Senator Reeves, back to you real quick. So, have you enjoyed your time?
Senator Reeves: I have. I’ve learned that there’s two words in public service. There’s a service side and there’s a public side. And both of those can be fun at times and both of those can be challenging at times. But overall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, and I feel like I’ve been able to make a difference in some areas as a senator I never could have made as a pharmacist. At least once a week, you’re really able to move the dial in some area with some agency, and really make a difference in someone’s life. And for that, that’s been really nice.
Senator Crowe: The service we give will long outlive the seat we occupy. That’s a great—I can’t remember who said that, but it really says a lot. The service we give will long outlive the seat we occupy, because when we leave, someone is going to be sitting in that seat and take it over, but the service you give is what people is going to remember.
Senator Bailey: Well, Senator Reeves, being a freshman senator, we can certainly say that you’re a rising star in the state Senate, and I’ve certainly enjoyed my friendship with you, and certainly with Senator Niceley and Senator Crowe here. They were mentors to me, and certainly they can be mentors to you.
Senator Reeves: Thank you.
Senator Bailey: Gentleman, one of the topics today that we’re going to cover is the State of the State. The Governor proposed his budget and the number one reason that we’re all meeting—the legislature meeting in Nashville from January through the end of April—is to pass the budget, and our constitution says that it must be balanced. So, I’m going to basically ask you gentleman to jump right in as we discuss what you thought about the Governor’s State of the State, and his proposal, and from there we’ll just have a general discussion, and then we’ll just wrap it with a lightning round, if you will, at the very end. So, Senator Niceley, what was your take on Governor Lee’s State of the State Address this past Monday night? I know you were listening very intently and taking notes.
Senator Niceley: Well, I was in the back row, I couldn’t hear too good [laughing], but everybody jumping up and down. I just sat there listening. I came with a couple of things. He’s putting $25 million more in broadband, now that’s a big deal out in the country.
Senator Bailey: It is. It is, especially—
Senator Niceley: Everybody talking about broadband, and they don’t want 5G, because that fries your brains. [laughing] They want fiber optics. And out in the country, where I live, the Governor is putting money in fiber optics. And once you get fiber optics, you don’t need anything else. 5G is just a step towards fiber optics.
Senator Reeves: It’s just hard for rural communities. My public utility came to see me last week, which is Duck Electric, and to do fiber optics for the huge district they’ve got is $450 million. But $25 million gets it started, but that’s such a big check, to make that work.
Senator Niceley: In my district, I have Appalachian Electric and Holston Electric, and they’re both on their way towards running fiber optics over a huge part—every subscriber is going to have it, and they’re doing a great job. The other thing that I noticed, he’s putting $7 million more into the Ag Enhancement Program, which would get it up to about, I think it was 7; 6 or 7, it gets it up to $27 or 8 million.
Senator Bailey: And that’s been a huge benefit to our farmers over the last—
Senator Niceley: It has, yeah.
Senator Bailey: and actually, that was one of the initiatives of Governor Bredesen. And that he originally started that, but I think that Governor Haslam, during the Haslam years definitely improved the program. But that has really, really helped our farmers all across the state of Tennessee.
Senator Niceley: Governor Bredesen had actually cut it from $21 million down to 13, and the first thing Haslam did, put it back to 21. And this puts it up to about 28. And at first, I was against it, but we put so much money in these foreign corporations, like Volkswagen, and Hemlock, and Electrolux all across the state, hundreds of millions of dollars, and they’d up and leave. These farmers aren’t leaving.
Senator Bailey: No, they’re here.
Senator Niceley: We invest that money and farmers are here to stay.
Senator Crowe: We better figure out how to keep our farms going, and I think one of the things he’s done as well, I didn’t see it in this budget but I know last year, he put money in there for our 4H kids, and he put money in there to try to figure out how to save our farms, and that’s important. Franks right, we’ve got to—think about it, if we don’t have our dairies—Frank talk about, if you don’t mind, Paul, that scares me. Our situation with milk and dairies is really scary.
Senator Niceley: Well, at one time, Tennessee had 10,000 dairies. We’re down to about 200 now, lose them every week. And Dean Foods went bankrupt. Borden Dairies went bankrupt. I really don’t know what—I talked to Commissioner Hatcher, it’s a bad situation, I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Senator Reeves: We had 35 in Marshall County 15 years ago, we’re down to 3. We’re down to three.
Senator Crowe: I think we’re all seeing that in our rural counties.
Senator Niceley: The only ones that are going to make it are the ones that are bottling their own milk, now. You have a few dairies across the state that are bottling their own milk, and they’re making money. The federal government got involved in milk program years ago and destroyed it. I trust the free market better than I trust the federal government.
Senator Bailey: So, Senator Reeves, what was your thoughts about the Governor’s budget presentation on Monday night?
Senator Reeves: Well, first thing is, it must be nice to be Governor when you’ve got an extra billion dollars of cash. [laughing] It must be a nice problem to have.
Senator Bailey: Absolutely, to be honest with you I’m just sitting there and hearing all of the proposals, and especially the new limits of spending that he’s proposing, and I’m just really blown away. And of course, that’s really just—the good news is we have continued to cut taxes. We have cut taxes nearly a billion dollars over the past eight years. And yet we’re still seeing surpluses and even the Governor is proposing another tax cut on the professional privilege tax this year. But we’re still seeing record revenue growth in the state of Tennessee. And I think, especially to those of you, Senator Nicely and Senator Crowe, who have been here in the legislature for a number of years, that you’ve been fiscally responsible, and you have allowed us to see this growth, which is allowing us to be able to fund programs that have needed to be funded in a long time.
Senator Crowe: It’s a catch-up thing in some instances, yeah.
Senator Bailey: But back to you Senator Reeves, in regards to the budget, any more thoughts, on—
Senator Reeves: Well sure, that was first thought is, and the second thing is, $600 million in public education. I know a lot of public education teachers at my backdoor, I’ve already heard positive words from the last few days. They appreciate the cap for the $40,000 for young teachers coming in. MTSU, which is in my backdoor, is a big producer of teachers, big producer, and it’s down. They’re trying desperately to get new young people to go into that program, so maybe that moves the dial in the right direction. That was a big part of it. Again, I think mental health is a big issue in the state, in all 95 counties. The teachers I’m talking to nowadays are talking about behavioral issues, we got behavior issues in jails, so I think putting money to mental health is a big deal. But we need to save a little bit, too, guys. along the way, too, when we got a surplus, we need to save a little bit to make sure we’ve got it down the road.
Senator Bailey: Of course, the governor, he’s proposing $50 million into the rainy-day fund, and the good news is Tennessee has got a Triple-A bond rating from all of the rating agencies out of New York City. We’re one of the, well if not the best financially managed states in the nation—there’s just so much to be thankful for, for living in Tennessee, but he also is proposing putting $50 million in the rainy-day fund. And back to the rating agencies, they’re actually saying, “We would like to see you have 8 percent of your total state budget in a rainy-day fund.” And so, obviously they’re looking at, sometime there may be a downturn in the economy. Obviously, with the way the stock market has been going the last few days, it doesn’t appear that there’s any end in sight.
Senator Reeves: 8 percent would be $3.2 billion.
Senator Bailey: It would be today.
Senator Reeves: We’ve got $1.1 billion. Okay.
Senator Bailey: We’ve got one point one, so we’ve got to grow that just a little bit. But you mentioned something, Senator Reeves, that I really want to go back and touch on. The governor made a commitment of $600 million for K-12 education, and basically moving the pay increase for our teachers from $36 to $40,000, which is huge, and obviously they need that. But here’s one little issue that we see in rural counties, and all four of us represent rural counties, there are those what I call certified positions in the BEP program and then there’s the non-certified positions in the BEP program. So, although the governor proposes and the state legislature approves a 4 percent pay increase for teachers, some of those school districts are not able to fully pass that 4 percent increase along to our teachers, simply because those, what I call non-certified positions, are not actually being funded through the BEP program, and the locals are actually having to make that up. So, sometimes it’s misleading to the public out here, whenever they hear that we’re giving our teachers a 4 percent raise.
Senator Crowe: It’s probably just best to put in terms of 117 million bucks for our teachers. But I think that what you said is the great news, to try to move that beginning salary from 36 to 40. That’s really good.
Senator Reeves: Well that’s right. And I would also say it’s not simply a rural issue. Rutherford County is growing so fast that if my school superintendent were sitting here, he would tell you, “I’d love to give my teachers all these raises, but I’ve got such capital needs, and other operating expenses in my backdoor, I’ve got to put some of that, too.” But—
Senator Bailey: And you said your school system is building one new school per year?
Senator Reeves: Absolutely. I mean—
Senator Bailey: Because of the exploding growth, which is a huge capital expenditure for your county.
Senator Reeves: That’s right.
Senator Bailey: And although you’re having a lot of growth in your county, obviously the county is experiencing those growing pains, and they’re having to expend a lot of money to basically keep up with that growth as well.
Senator Reeves: That’s right, so it puts a lot of pressure on the property taxes in my community, which is a sore subject in my hometown right now. But that’s absolutely the case.
Senator Crowe: Well, the reason we’re in such great shape, seriously, is because—and we got our ACU ratings the other day. Our American Conservative Union ratings. We now—and this is a scoop guys—we now have the number one conservative Senate in the nation. That’s pretty good. And the reason we’re in good shape is because we’ve concentrated on heavily on lower taxes; less intrusive government regulations; personal responsibility, we’d rather teach them to fish than give them fish; and faith; and family. And it’s almost exactly what Trump said last night in his speech. He said it in different terms, but same kind of thing, Frank, isn’t it?
Senator Niceley: Well it is, it’s something we need to always remember, and I say this out when I give my little stump speeches, when the Republicans took over from the Democrats, we were in pretty fair shape. The Democrats did a pretty fair job of running this state, back in the old days when Rusty was a Democrat, [laughing] in the old days. But now then—
Senator Crowe: Didn’t take me long.
Senator Niceley: Most of those old Democrats, if they were alive today, they’d be Republicans today. So, the Democrats I served with back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, if they were alive today, they’d be Republicans. They would have loved Trump’s speech last night. And there’s a whole new generation of Democrats out here that I worry about.
Senator Crowe: Well, you think about it, we’re number one in fiscal responsibility, we have the lowest taxes per capita personal income, we—probably one of the best rainy-day funds in the country, as you said. And that was Doug Henry, and McNally, and myself back then passing legislation to make sure we put 10 percent of our money into savings, years ago. And then, you mentioned the balanced budget every year. The last two years, we’ve balanced budget with no new debt. First time in recorded history.
Senator Bailey: But no new debt, and we are not borrowing money to do any of the expenditures. We’re paying cash. And I mentioned at some point in time during my intro into the podcast, or during this interview process, that growing up in the country, we have common sense, or we’re taught common sense. I sometimes think you’re born with common sense, but the common sense is, is that you pay as you go, and that is what Tennessee is doing.
Senator Crowe: When you were transportation commissioner, you made sure that we didn’t borrow money for roads, we paid as we go. And we’ve done that, yeah.
Senator Reeves: On the trail, going back to what you said, Senator Crowe, more and more people, they say, “Senator Reeves, I’m thrilled that the state’s growing. It’s super that we have all this economic development. But if folks are going to move in here from California, and Vermont, and New York, and all over, let’s just make sure we don’t lose the culture.” You mentioned the faith, the family, the traditions, the soul of the state, let’s not lose that.
Senator Niceley: It’s like my wife said, she’d rather pay a few taxes than have all these Yankees come down here.
She’s from Texas you know, and they have a low tolerance for Yankees there, not me.
Senator Bailey: Well, gentlemen, we’re just about ready to close out on our discussion. In regards to the topic of today, we were talking about the governor’s State of the State and his budget proposal. Do any of you have any last-minute comments in regards to the budget, or his State of the State?
Senator Crowe: I guess most of us walked out of there thinking, “Man, that was probably the most spending we’ve seen in a long time, but I think what we have to understand is, we haven’t been able to fund some of these programs in a long time, and I think doing it through the regular budget is probably better than doing it through pork barrel methods, like in the old days we did a lot of. If we can fund our budget and help with those things that we need to help with through the normal budget process, we’re better off.
Senator Bailey: Senator Niceley?
Senator Niceley: Well, I’m not smart enough to figure out how to explain it simple enough, to explain to my liberal friends how you can cut taxes and have more money.
Senator Crowe: But it works.
Senator Niceley: I’m just not smart enough, but it works. We’ve proven it here in Tennessee. That’s what Trump’s trying to do in Washington. And we’ve proven it, that you can cut taxes and end up with more money. And Chairman Watson, the other day, asked me, “So, what do we do, if we need more taxes, if we need more money?” I said, “Well we just cut taxes again.” It works every time. But that’s a hard thing to explain to people, how you can cut taxes and end up with more money. I’m still working on how to explain that.
Senator Reeves: Art Laffer. Laffer Curve. That’s exactly what it is.
Senator Niceley: Art does a pretty good job, but I’m not sure he explains it to my liberal friends. But I do have a number of liberal friends, by the way, a few of them. Not many. A few. [laughing]
Senator Bailey: Senator Reeves
Senator Reeves: So, if my colleagues, who have been down here for a while, that have been here during challenging times, like ‘07, ‘08, back when we were having to cut people off the TennCare rolls a number of years ago, it was challenging times, and so I just want to make sure—it’s important to me that we continue to take a conservative approach to this. Being a businessman for a number of years, I can tell you right now, it’s a whole lot easier to have a little money left over at the end of the month as opposed to having a lot of month left over at the end of your money.
Senator Bailey: And I’ve been there. I’ve been there.
Senator Reeves: And it’s no fun. And we don’t need to do that as a state, so let’s just make sure we’re being conservative, and thoughtful, and saving some of it, because it’s going to rain someday, and we need to be ready for it.
Senator Bailey: None of us ever want to see a slowdown in the economy, but we have seen record growth for many years now, and so at some point in time, there may be a slowdown. So, we’ve got to be prepared for that, but at the same time, we’ve got to take care of Tennesseans.
Well gentleman, thank you. Senator Niceley, Senator Crowe, Senator Reeves, for joining—
Senator Crowe: Oh, let me say how nice it is. We always enjoy coming to your office, because it’s like, and just to describe it to people, it’s like a tack room.
You come in, you’ve got horses on the wall, and looks—you’ve got the cowboy furniture, and it’s just a friendly place to be. And you see Ronald Reagan on a horse, and I love what Frank said about Reagan. They said, how’d he keep so young.
Senator Niceley: Well, they asked him how he kept looking so young, and he said, “Well, I just keep riding older horses.”
Senator Crowe: But that’s what you get when you’re in Paul Bailey’s office.
Senator Bailey: Well, my goal as far as, and this is the people’s office, but my goal was when I was elected senator, I wanted a warm, friendly, inviting atmosphere when they came into my office. And then, of course, I’ve just added a little country flair to it, a little western flair to it. But again, Senator Nicely, Senator Crowe, Senator Reeves, thank you so much for joining us on the Backroads and Backstories podcast. This is Senator Paul Bailey.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to the Backroads and Backstories podcast, with Senator Paul Bailey. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast at backroadsandbackstories.com. And subscribe, rate, and review the show on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever fine podcasts are distributed. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you next time, on the Backroads and Backstories podcast.