Spending and Revenue:
Issue #2: The financial health of Tennessee is not going well. Our economy is stagnant and funding for higher education is at it's lowest since the year 2000 - in both dollars and percent of the cost of education. During the same time, enrollment in public institutions is at an all-time high. Other projects that can benefit all Tennesseans need to be fully funded and we need to use our limited funds wisely. Funding for projects that will increase our state as a destination for industry and tourism should be placed at the highest level and this includes making sure that our high school and college graduates have actual knowledge and skills that will be an asset that attracts business to our state.
Part of any solution is improvement of our public and higher education system and the subsequent improvement of the available workforce for new employers. Another important aspect is to get Nashville working on solutions instead of passing bills that have little or no real consequences on our state. I sympathize and sometimes agree with the sentiments that Matthew Hill may be trying to get across with some of the bills he has sponsored. Some values can't be compromised, but I don't think taking ideological stances on non-critical issues, like the appearance of a sex offender's drivers license, are what is needed to get our state moving.
Opportunities to bring business into our state must be aggressively pursued and tax subsidies and other tax-payer funded methods can be used to bring more business into the state. Temporary tax breaks and other incentives are justified when the reward of a new business can provide jobs and affect our economy in a positive manner. However, the state must protect taxpayers when companies like Hemlock Semiconductors back out of taxpayer subsidized funding. Over $100 million was lost with the Hemlock deal (http://www.knoxviews.com/node/19635}. Tennessee makes as many poor finacial decisions as the Federal government. We just have less money, we waste less, but the bad pollicies are still widespread and costly.
Other examples of wasteful spending include:
$600,000 to the National Civil Rights Museum for economic damage from natural disasters(a flood). The Museum sits on a Bluff well above floodwaters and could not even produce data to show that the 2011 flood ever affected it's revenue. (This according to http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/2013-Tennessee-Pork-Report.pdf or the Tennessee Pork Report)
$800,000 for a study of a master plan for an old vacant prison. (http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/commission-approves-800k-study-future-use-old-tennessee-state-prison).
TNInvestco: A program to encourage business investment and job growth in Tennessee which has cost the state at least $111 million and created 577 new jobs "the majority in Tennessee" (Tennessee Pork Report)
$200,000 for facility maintenance at Watkins College of Art, Design, & Film - a private college. (Tennessee Pork Report)
$73 million in overpayments of unemployment benefits that included payments to currently working state employees and several dead citizens. (Tennessee Pork Report)
And much much more waste. You can find this out for yourself by doing Google searches and/or looking at http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/2013-Tennessee-Pork-Report.pdf. But you should try to verify any information with multiple independent sources. Don't just take my word for it and don't just take someone else's word for it. You have the ability to research these issues and as a responsible citizen of the Great State of Tennessee ansd the United States of America, we all owe it to ourselves and our country to become as informed as we can be on the issues.
Incarceration rates in Tennessee and the associated costs: Data below is from http://nicic.gov/statestats/?st=tn.
Incarceration is about 7% higher than other states.
Violent crimes 67% higher than other states
Property crimes 33% higher than the national average.
Drug Offenders make up over 25% of incarcerated felons in Tennessee and spend an average of almost 10 years incarcerated.
Tennessee spends an average of $64.72 a day for each prisoner in state custody (not including death row) and $9,123 a year, or $50.68 a day for each student in public school. Another way of puttig this is we spend 22% more on our prisoners tha we do on our children's education.
We need alternative sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and others in our jails and prisons. We can create programs for these offenders to earn their keep while participating in work and rehabilitation programs.
These numbers leave me very confused because if violent crime is this bad in our state, why are our incarceration rates only 7% higher than the national average? It could be due to different reporting requirements and crime definitions throughout the country, or maybe there are other reasons. Maybe it's because we are incarcerating some who could be serving their sentences under alternative sentencing laws, while violent and repeat offenders are getting off ligher than they should. East Tenessee in particular seems to have a long history of making deals with those who belong behind bars, while others who should recieve lighter sentences are punished to the fullest extent. Unfortunately, some of our inmates should never see the light of day again. But we need to have alternative sentencing for non-violent criminals who are a drain on our resources. We need to use our limited resources on violent offenders and create laws that could make low-risk offenders serve the public, reduce our incarceration rates and possibly pay their own way for the offenses they have commited.
We need to make sure that local district attorneys do not make deals with killers and rapists, while throwing the book at someone caught with a marijuana joint. Is this somethig that should be or could be regulated by the state? The state can and should create programs for alternative sentencing, but I believe the voters in our district should pay attention to what occurs in our legal system and not just to the crime stories that are pushed heavily by the press. My own brother-in-law was killed by a drunk driver in 2002 and justice was not served in his case. This was a direct result of the action (or inaction) of the prosecutor and either incompetence or apathy. You can bet I won't be voting for that prosecutor for any office he runs for. The public has to take more responsibility and take action, by watching and voting, to control more situations and at least in some areas, have less regulation from the state. Heavy minimal sentencing guidelines has done much to create this problem and these laws should be reviewed.
Drug Offenders make up over 25% of incarcerated felons in Tennessee and spend an average of almost 10 years incarcerated. While many of these offenders are violent and should not be given any special consideration, why aren't we working on alternative sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and coming up with ways for these offenders to earn their keep while participating in work and rehabilitation services? There certainly can be better ways of addressing this problem that could reduce repeat offenders, addressing both crime and economic issues.
The Tennessee General Assembly web site is confusing and limits the ability of most citizens to understand what is actually going on in Nashville. Bills posted on there often use abbreviations to show at what stage of development the bill is at. Very often a bill is appending a previous law, and only the changes to the law are displayed. An interested citizen may be forced to search for one or more previous laws and piece the information together to understand what is actually being done. This system can and should be improved to make our state the most transparent government in the nation.
More to come...