Legislative Leaders Declare Economic Development, Jobs the Top Priority

State lawmakers are scrambling to hand in proposed new legislation before a Thursday deadline. But political leaders in the Tennessee House say that no matter what shows up, they’re going to pay most attention to bills about jobs and economic issues.

House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick says one major idea is to allow job-creating industries to get cash incentives, real money, as soon as they start up. The money would be handed out by the Department of Economic and Community Development.

“They have found out through talking to different companies, that the companies would rather have more flexibility up front to get their facilities going, rather than having a long, drawn-out process of doing tax credits.”

That bill is part of the governor’s legislative “to-do” list, and McCormick is the governor’s point man in the House.

The minority party will put up their own economic proposals, says House Democratic Leader Mike Turner.

“Our Number One focus this time is trying to make sure we have jobs. …we’ve got a jobs package we’re putting forward, and hopefully the Republicans will support it, and we’re willing to support any job measures they have, if it puts people to work, and is fair.”

Democrats had a similar package last year – but Republicans ignored it.

This week could see about a thousand new proposals filed. The General Assembly passes a few more than 500 new laws a year – about a fourth of all the bills on their desks.

As of this morning, lawmakers had filed more than 500 new bills (by definition, ones that are introduced in both chambers) to take up this year.

House Majority [Republican] Leader Gerald McCormick is House sponsor for most of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative package. So the governor’s list is automatically Job One for him:

“I certainly hope that we’re going to concentrate on the governor’s legislative package. That’ll be my main concern this year. And hopefully things that deal with economic development, and might make it a better environment for jobs to grow in Tennessee.”

Freeing up ECD to pay incentives rather than promising tax breaks also helps governments, says McCormick. On-going tax breaks can undermine a government’s expected revenue for many years, he says.

“I think it’s just more …predictability for the companies and also for local governments and state governments as far as collecting taxes in future years.”

Economic Development bills usually get high priority in legislative committee meetings.

But the mass of miscellaneous bills which are submitted each year is a recurring concern for legislators. They can slow down work on bills with a real chance of passing. And committee officers are frustrated at the end of the session as they make time to hear bills which (as it turns out) the sponsor has no intention of bringing up.

Some states have rules that delete bills that are introduced but not brought up for discussion during a certain time period. But Tennessee lawmakers are free to submit huge numbers of bills that may never see a committee meeting.

Some numbers to illustrate how many bills the General Assembly must deal with:

When the current, 107th General Assembly met in 2011 for its first-year session, House members filed 2,159 bills. In addition to that, the House this year has almost 700 new bills – so far.

Last year the Senate filed 2,159 bills. So far this year senators have filed another 575.

The previous General Assembly, the 106th, stacked up 3,998 House bills, with 2,420 in the first year and 1,578 in the second year. That legislature, meeting 2009-10, had a total of 3957 Senate bills, of which 2,395 were tossed into the hopper the first year and 1,562 the second year.

But the 2009-10 General Assembly passed only 1,151 public chapter laws, fewer than 600 per year. So far the 2011-12 General Assembly has passed 510 public chapters.

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