Although we have a Republican majority in the state Houses, Midtowners do not have a Republican legislator to contact. Fortunately, we do have Mark White in the House and Brian Kelsey in the Senate as dependable Republican neighbors.
Senator Kelsey has sent along his four priorities for the 2014 legislative session. He writes:
#1 Preventing ObamaCare Medicaid Expansion
Thankfully, Tennessee has not accepted Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. It would be fiscally irresponsible to do so. Under current federal law, it would cost Tennessee taxpayers $200 million a year to expand Medicaid. That figure assumes the federal government will keep its promise to pay 90% of the cost in future years. I recently returned from a panel on federalism at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Congressman Scott Garrett of New Jersey commented on the current federal matching rate: “If you think it’s going to stay at 90%, you’re kidding yourself.” Washington has $17 trillion of debt. There is no way the federal government can afford to keep a 90% matching rate. They cut the rate in 1981 to balance the budget, and they will do it again. That would leave state taxpayers to foot the bill. I am determined not to let this happen. I will remain the state’s leading opponent of ObamaCare Medicaid expansion.
#2 Opportunity Scholarships
Opportunity scholarships will allow our neediest children to take a portion of the funds we spend on them to whatever private school they choose. Children will no longer be victims of their zip code. Opportunity scholarships in other states have dramatically increased graduation rates among those who use them. They also slightly increase scores in the public school districts that offer them and increase the per capita funding for children who remain in the public school district. In 2011 I passed a bill through the Senate to offer opportunity scholarships to all low-income children in the four largest counties in Tennessee. In 2013 a separate bill passed the House Education Committee that was targeted to students zoned to attend the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee, 80% of which are in Memphis. I remain open to compromise on the parameters of the bill and am hopeful that we can pass a bill through both the House and the Senate in 2014.
#3 Reducing Local Government Debt
Tennessee has the lowest per capita debt of any state in the nation. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of our cities and counties. Memphis has been in the news recently for its debt problems, and Shelby County actually has more debt than the state government. The problem arises because local government officials have an incentive to give voters projects today that are paid for by issuing bonds that are paid back long after the officials have left office. My legislation would require egregiously bad bond issuances to be approved by the State Funding Board. These really bad debt issuances are akin to balloon payments on home mortgages. The payments remain low in the short run but balloon out of control in the long run. It never hurts to have another set of eyes looking over such complex deals, and the State Funding Board has the expertise to do so. This bill will help keep property taxes low and ensure that we do not burden our children and grandchildren with bills they cannot pay.
#4 Attorney General Selection
I hope to amend the Tennessee constitution to popularly elect the Attorney General. Forty-three states do so, and Tennessee should join the list. Tennessee is the only state in the union in which the Attorney General is selected by the Supreme Court. He is actually twice removed from the people because our Supreme Court also is not elected. This removal from accountability leads to such unpopular decisions as that not to join the lawsuit against ObamaCare. At the very least, Tennessee should join the other six states in which the Attorney General is appointed by elected officials in the executive and the legislature. Only then will we have an Attorney General who is responsive to the needs of the people rather than the needs of the Supreme Court.