By Sen. Mike Bell
Thankfully, Tennessee's government does not operate like Washington. That is why I was very surprised to hear that the Democrat nominee for the 10th state Senatorial District, Andrae McGary, recently inferred at the Cleveland Rotary Club that there was gridlock at the state level of government. As a legislator who represents state Senate District 9, I can assure you that under the unified leadership of Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in the Senate and House Speaker Beth Harwell, that there is progress -- not gridlock -- in the Tennessee General Assembly.
But, let the results speak for themselves. Due to the tremendous cooperation that now exists between the two houses of the legislature and the governor, we have truly been able to move the ball forward in education, job creation, responsible budget practices and fighting crime.
Bringing new and better-paying jobs to Tennessee was "job one" this year as we worked in harmony to create a business climate that enhances economic growth. This work is reflected in the most recent report released by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development that showed Tennessee has reached its highest mark in job creation in the last five years. That success is also reflected by the job creation success in Hamilton and Bradley counties. We must continue our unified efforts to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.
Businesses are drawn to Tennessee as a result of our reform-minded education initiatives. Due to passage of landmark legislation, our state is being recognized as a leader in education reform in grades K-12. This is a fact that goes a long way with companies looking to locate within our borders. Many of these reforms, which had been stalled in the past, were only approved due to great cooperative efforts in our state legislature.
Governor Haslam is now taking education reform to the next level in 2013 as he is meeting with leaders around the state regarding improvements in higher education so our students have the skills they need to meet an increasingly competitive workplace. He will find much support from the legislature in this effort.
Our unified Republican-led government has successfully implemented several tax cut measures, as well as a new law, which I sponsored, to improve government efficiency and accountability in our state's boards and commissions. We phased out the inheritance tax, eliminated the gift tax, gave Hall Tax relief to senior citizens and lowered the state's portion of the sales tax on food. This is in addition to a responsible, balanced budget that put forth thoughtful reductions and savings for the future.
Finally, several public safety measures were passed this year with the cooperation of state lawmakers. This includes combating prescription drug abuse, mandatory sentencing for repeat domestic violence offenders, and tougher sentencing for certain gang-related crimes and gun possession by those with prior felonies
The 107th General Assembly, which adjourned in May, was the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans held a majority in both houses of the General Assembly and the governor's office. We take that responsibility seriously and have thus worked together on all of these important issues. The cooperative spirit in which we worked even resulted in the General Assembly efficiently finishing its work on time this year -- hardly a sign of gridlock.
It matters who governs. We don't need to turn back the progress we have made in Tennessee over the past two years under a unified state government. If we do, that is when we will find that we have gridlock.
State Sen. Mike Bell represents Senate District 9, which is comprised of Bradley, McMinn, Meigs and Polk counties. He is chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee.