NASHVILLE - Democratic leaders charged Thursday that Gov. Bill Haslam and majority Republican lawmakers are devoting too much attention to divisive issues and not enough to job-creation pledges made during their campaigns.
"Today marks the 40th day of the new administration, and we're simply asking: Where is this jobs plan?" said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, who held a news conference with his House counterparts.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said, "It looks like, at the start, instead of working together to put Tennesseans back to work, the majority party has lost its jobs focus and it's turned to attacking families. Instead of creating jobs, they're creating new ways to make it harder to vote. Instead of helping Tennesseans find employment, they're telling you you're on your own."
Democrats sketched out bills they have to provide tax incentives to entrepreneurs and special credits for job creation. Another proposal would give priority to Tennessee-based contractors seeking state government contracts, while a third is a sales tax "holiday" for small businesses and a rebate on capital equipment purchases.
During their news conference, Democrats sought to illustrate their assertions with a large stack of bills they say have been introduced by Republicans versus a thin stack of economy-related measures.
Speaking later, Haslam defied Democrats' claims.
"I think we are very focused on jobs," he said. "What we're saying is we don't think you create jobs through legislation necessarily. We think you look at things that maybe the state's doing that are inhibiting job growth. But I'm not certain there's bills that we're going to pass that will bring new jobs to Tennessee."
He pointed to his own legislation, which would cap jury awards in personal injury lawsuits involving medical malpractice and other issues. He also cited his push to curb state rules and regulations.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, both took issue with Democrats.
Ramsey called it "a typical Democrat response that government creates jobs. Government does not create jobs. The private sector and business create jobs."
"What we're doing with tort reform would do more to create jobs in the state of Tennessee and provide a pro-business environment than anything they would propose," he said.
Harwell said lawmakers' top priority is a balanced budget.
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