Tennessee gubernatorial responses

Below are complete responses from the major candidates in the 2010 gubernatorial race to questions about economic development and jobs. A version edited because of space limitations appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 14.

This is one in a monthly series on issues in the race produced by the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a content-sharing coalition that includes the Chattanooga Times Free Press and newspapers in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville.

Job creation

What would you as governor do in your first few months in office to spur job creation and lower Tennessee's unemployment rate?

McMillan: There are numerous actions that I would take immediately as Governor to spur job creation and lower Tennessee's unemployment rate. First, we must examine and pursue partnerships between our post-secondary institutions and economic development opportunities, as we did between Hemlock Semiconductor and Austin Peay State University, so we can evaluate, review and establish future opportunities. We will also immediately begin reviewing State contracts and procedures for procurement to ensure that Tennessee businesses, especially small businesses, have access to information about procurement procedures, funding and opportunities. Finally, I will continue my history of bringing leaders from both sides of the political aisle together to work creatively and responsibly to create, retain and grow jobs in Tennessee.

McWherter: My most important priority from Day One as Governor will be job creation. Once elected, I'll bring together leaders from all political parties to focus on putting Tennesseans back to work.

I'll build on the foundation Governor Bredesen has laid in securing supplier companies needed to support the new major automotive, alternate energy and chemical industries he's most recently brought to Tennessee. We need these suppliers here so that we get the highest possible return on our state's initial investments. We'll also encourage these suppliers to locate in different parts of the state so that all Tennesseans can benefit.

I'll also continue the Jobs Cabinet approach Governor Bredesen used to make it easier for businesses to deal with state government as they create or retain Tennessee jobs. This approach has been a success, and we must continue to have state agencies and the private sector work in tandem to ensure more jobs for Tennesseans.

Gibbons: Improving Tennessee's job outlook will be my focus every day as governor. We need to address both unemployment and low income levels. Our state unemployment rate is above the national average, and we have many counties in Tennessee with unemployment rates of 18 to 19 percent. This is unacceptable. Tennessee ranks about $5000 below the national average in per capital income, and about $1000 below the average of the southeastern United States. By the end of my first term as governor, I want Tennessee to be above the southeast U.S. average. That's a realistic goal, and one we can achieve with a focused effort. It is the governor's job to take the lead in creating the right kind of climate for more good-paying jobs in our state. A big part of that is ensuring we have in place the infrastructure for smart growth - the roads, bridges, and other transportation facilities; the basic water and sewer lines; available land, such as shovel-ready industrial megasites; and a first-class broadband network. I also want to look at the incentive packages that we are offering new companies and existing businesses to ensure we are putting forth the best effort to keep the good-paying jobs we have and bring more to our state. I support keeping taxes low as a way to encourage both existing and new industries. We need to look at our community colleges and technical centers and focus their courses to make sure Tennessee's workforce is prepared for the good-paying jobs of tomorrow. We need to streamline our state government processes so that business growth is not stifled by unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. Finally, we must have a concerted effort to focus on the growth industries of the future, such as solar energy, the next generation of automobiles, the biomedical industry, tourism, and the entertainment industry.

Haslam: My top priority as governor will be making Tennessee the number one state in the Southeast for high quality jobs. As soon as I take office, I will develop an online clearinghouse of education, labor, economic development, and industry data that will provide information on - and a clear route to - the training and education required for high demand jobs. I will also create a leadership position within Economic and Community Development specifically designated to focus on small towns, rural development, and agriculture as well as create regional jobs "base camps" within ECD in order to coordinate region-specific economic development strategies that leverage existing assets.

In the long-term, I will work to improve our education system and make sure we are preparing Tennesseans for the jobs of the future. I will also maintain a business friendly environment by keeping taxes low and ensuring Tennessee remains a state without an income tax.

Ramsey: My goal is to make Tennessee the most profitable place to start or grow a business in the country. The two best ways to do that do not cost a penny: ensure that Tennessee remains a Right to Work state and defeat all efforts to pass a state income tax. If we do those two things - and I will - it will assure prospective employers that Tennessee will always be job-friendly and we will grow our way out of recession.

In my administration, every department would have the same goal; help business owners create jobs. To accomplish this, I will appoint a small business liaison in every department to cut through the red tape. It is as simple as taking a current position within the department and transitioning it to work directly with small business owners. If a business owner has an issue with a regulation or unresponsive bureaucrat they can contact the small business advocate to solve the problem.

Wamp: My first priority will be to go right to work get our economy moving and to create new jobs in our state. That's why my 20/20 Vision for an Even Better Tennessee calls for a bold new 'production agenda' centered around manufacturing, agriculture, and infrastructure - an agenda that focuses on building, making, and growing things.

Manufacturers are drawn to our state because of our-right to-work status, low cost of living, high quality of life, great work ethic and having no state income tax. We need a Governor who knows how to leverage these assets to recruit new business and investment and to help small and existing businesses grow the jobs of the future.

In East Tennessee, I helped create the Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor, where we have focused our long-term regional efforts to grow and promote the manufacturing sector. That helped us Volkswagen and WackerChemie in the Chattanooga area, bringing in billions of dollars of new investment and more than 15,000 new jobs, even in the midst of a national recession. Now we must take this same aggressive approach at regional cooperation and new job creation statewide.

Unemployment benefits

Many businesses complain that the state's current unemployment benefit of $275 a week is too high and cannot be maintained without a tax increase. Do you support maintaining benefits at that level, raising them or lowering them?

McMillan: I do support maintaining them at the current level as long as possible. As difficult as it is for businesses, it's even worse for Tennessee's working families who are afraid of losing their homes, transportation to school or for a job search, health care and the basic necessities. As we all know, unemployment has risen but so have prices on everything from gasoline to bread. My goal will not be to reduce the current unemployment benefit. My job will be to reduce the number of people relying on those benefits by creating and growing jobs in Tennessee.

McWherter: We don't need to tamper one way or the other with the unemployment benefit program at this time. So many families that are trying to find work are currently relying on these benefits to keep food on their tables.

Once we get people back to work our priority should be to replenish the fund to ensure that it remains on sound financial footing.

Gibbons: I support maintaining them at the current level if at all possible, but without a tax increase. Of course, the real answer is to lower the unemployment rate.

Haslam: There's no question that these are tough times. It's tough for people who are out of work, but it's also difficult for small business owners who are paying unemployment taxes while struggling to make payroll. According to economists at UT, measures already in place will be sufficient to get the unemployment fund through until revenues return. Therefore, I don't favor any policy changes at this time, but we will certainly reassess the situation when I take office. However, I will not support any further tax increases.

Ramsey: Increasing taxes on business will lead to job loss and an increased unemployment rate. This will in turn create more demand on the state's unemployment benefit. The current administration has done a good job communicating the message that no program is sacred from cuts. If I had to choose between benefit reductions and a tax increase, I will choose the reduction.

Wamp: Tax increases in Tennessee are off the table, and with the state's current budget shortfall, we will not be able to raise or increase benefits. Last year, small businesses in Tennessee were taxed at a higher rate in order to preserve the state's unemployment compensation fund. This cannot happen again if we expect small businesses to begin hiring again.

To deal with the current budget crisis, we are going to have to reform the way state government does business through more efficient and responsible procurement reform; by shrinking the footprint of state government just as the private sector has had to contract; and by putting our focus on a new "production agenda to grow our way out of our economic downturn.

While I do not support reducing benefits when so many Tennesseans are still struggling to find jobs, I also do not believe we can take that option totally off the table in the future, if it becomes the only way to preserve the unemployment fund.

Relocation tax credits

Tennessee offers tax credits of as much as $100,000 per job to cover relocation expenses for companies that move their corporate headquarters to the state. Would you continue that program and why?

McMillan: It's vital that we continue to recruit industry and manufacturing jobs to Tennessee. That will likely require the continuation of offering incentives to businesses who decide to relocate here. Having been involved in these negotiations in the past, I am well aware of, and committed to, making certain that any incentives of this type that are offered will be offset by added jobs, increased salaries, and more opportunities for Tennesseans. Each case must be weighed on this cost-benefit analysis. While I would consider such incentives in appropriate cases, they will not be offered unless the situation warrants and we can establish that the industry is one which is committed to Tennessee on a long term basis and committed to employing Tennesseans.

McWherter: We must remain competitive against other states that are aggressively trying to land new industries that will create good paying jobs with a future. So as Governor I would continue to consider incentive packages that included tax credits for businesses that would create more Tennessee jobs, so long as we can measure a high rate of return for every tax credit we invest.

In addition to tax credits for large industries, I also would consider tax incentives for small businesses that create good paying jobs. After all, small businesses are what fuel our state's economic engine.

Gibbons: Usually, corporate headquarters bring more good-paying jobs to our state. In most cases, the involvement of those corporations in a community's civic life also brings significant rewards. In my hometown of Memphis, FedEx, Autozone, Pinnacle Airlines and International Paper are great examples of the positive impact corporate headquarters can have on a community. So, while each opportunity should be analyzed on a cost/benefit basis, I generally support the use of such tax incentives.

Haslam: My use of incentives will be targeted and based on measurable returns on investment and quantifiable impact on job creation. Taxpayers must be able to see a clear return on any tax dollars used to recruit companies. Every economic development opportunity will be evaluated for its particular potential to bring jobs and economic growth.

While the billion dollar companies are great to recruit and I will be relentless in similar pursuits, we must remember that two thirds of the new jobs in the country are created by small businesses. As governor, I plan on working with existing businesses in the state to expand their operations, while also recruiting new companies to the state. I will utilize regional economic development strategies that build on existing assets, and I will create an economic environment friendly to small business.

Ramsey: Yes. Tax credits are an excellent, free market way to draw jobs to this state.

Wamp: Yes. We need an "all of the above" approach to attracting new businesses to Tennessee and to create more higher-paying jobs. And we need a Governor who can leverage all of our other assets to promote new investment and business growth. Volkswagen chose to build in Tennessee because of our high quality of life, low cost of living, lack of state income tax, and right to work status. These assets, coupled with sensible tax incentives and economic development programs, can continue to bring new and higher-paying jobs to our state.

Job training tax credits

The state has also relied on job training tax credits and infrastructure development grants to encourage companies to invest Tennessee. Is there anything that you as governor would do differently?

McMillan: I am committed to creating a work environment in Tennessee that focuses on getting Tennesseans jobs which allow for upward mobility for them and their families. If tax credits and infrastructure development grants can achieve these goals, I am in favor of leveraging those resources. Having been a part of legislative efforts to use these types of credits and grants to spur business development, I am well aware of how successful they can be. I am pleased Governor Bredesen has recommended in his 2011 budget to the Legislature not to budget all the on-time funding and committed these funds to the next Governor. As the economy recovers, these funds will allow me to strategically develop incentives, probably 6 months ahead of most new Governors.

McWherter: I applaud the success Governor Bredesen has had in using training and infrastructure investments to generate jobs growth and job retention in all parts of our state. I would continue that success by ensuring we maintain a high level of accountability for every investment made in the name of economic and community development.

On the training front, I do believe that our state should tap our underutilized community colleges and technology centers to ensure that their curriculum and educational offerings are in sync with the demands of the private sector, and to look at making training resources more available to small businesses and industries.

Gibbons: It is important to offer appropriate incentives to new and existing companies willing to invest in Tennessee. Our state's Fast Track training assistance program is a great example of how both new and expanding industries can receive state support for employee training. And the Community Development Block Grant program has helped many communities in our state with the basic infrastructure to support growth. As governor, I will work to strengthen such existing efforts. One possible change I would like to look at in our jobs tax credit is factoring in the average salaries of new jobs created rather than just looking at the number of jobs.

Haslam: As someone who led a successful family business in Tennessee, I can speak from first-hand experience about the advantages of locating in our state. That personal testimony is an important recruiting tool. As Mayor, I helped recruit Green Mountain Coffee to Knoxville, and one of the tools we used to recruit them was customized job training at an area community college. Likewise, a sound infrastructure has proved critical to job recruitment.

Economic development incentives are a useful tool for attracting new business to Tennessee and creating jobs within the state, but we should not have a one-size-fits-all approach on the matter. Incentives should be targeted and focused towards growth industries and the jobs of the future. We should carefully evaluate the costs and benefits to the state in every situation and use incentives only when it's clear that the opportunity will yield a high, measurable return on investment.

Ramsey: Economic development packages should be tailored to individual businesses. Some industries need job training help; others need improved infrastructure; start-ups need capital; and every business needs a tax policy that rewards success and provides a competitive advantage to other states. As Lt. Governor, I have shaped policies for a variety of job creation strategies.

In 2009, I worked with Sen. Doug Overbey to craft the TNInvestco legislation which provides start-up small businesses with the resources they need to create jobs. Each start-up must be willing to create and maintain jobs in Tennessee for ten years and they must be located and headquartered here as well. I will expand that program as Governor.

As Majority Leader of the state Senate, I worked with the current administration to overhaul Tennessee's job training efforts. We focused on upgrading the skills of current workers to make sure companies already located here, stay in Tennessee.

Tennessee has experienced tremendous success with its mega-site program as well. However, state officials should carefully monitor any incentive program. That is why, in my capacity as Chairman of the State Building Commission, I required the Haywood Mega-site Authority to file papers of incorporation. Believe it or not, there were those who wanted to release mega-site funds to the Authority when they did not officially exist! Luckily, the Republican majority on the commission required the project to cross the "t's" and dot the "i's" before receiving state funds.

Responsible incentives have their place in attracting major anchor projects that can reshape the economy of a region - but they are but one secondary piece of an overall economic development strategy. The more important job of state government is to implement pro-business policies and low tax rates that enable every business in our state to grow and expand - not just new mega-projects.

Wamp: One area where there needs to be more focus is on workforce development to match the real-world needs of employers. Not only will I focus on providing students with the educational opportunities they need to compete in the world, but just as the current administration has done with the Hemlock model in Clarksville, we will create new workforce partnerships and more dual-enrollment options in high schools, vocational schools, and community colleges to help specifically train more Tennesseans and to give businesses the well-educated and prepared workforce they need to succeed.

I'll also create several new regional economic development initiatives based around our strategic assets to help promote new investment. One new initiative I will take the lead on is the creation of a new "Defense Corridor" from Ft. Campbell near our Kentucky border down the I-65/24 corridor to the Redstone Arsenal in North Alabama - linking together our research universities, the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, Vanderbilt, MTSU and other public/private sector partners to create new defense and national/homeland security opportunities for businesses in Tennessee. In addition, I will provide strong leadership and support for the new Memphis Research Consortium to link together our top research institutions and employers for new job creation- and I will help organize a new Agriculture Corridor in rural West Tennessee.

Our Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor in the East, my vision for a new Defense Corridor in Middle, and the new Research Consortium and Ag Corridor in the West - all working together - will help us be even more aggressive in going after and creating the high-tech jobs of the future in all three grand divisions of our great state.

Disclosure of incentive costs

Will you commit to giving Tennesseans an upfront, dollar estimate of how much the incentives used to bring economic development projects here will cost the state in spending and lost revenue?

McMillan: I am very proud to have sponsored some of the most progressive open government legislation in Tennessee's history. Government can only succeed with an informed, educated and interested citizenry. The taxpayers are entitled to know, and should know, where their money is being spent. It is imperative, however, that the information given is accurate and honest. I will commit to advising Tennesseans of the incentives accepted when companies move to Tennessee as well as the primary reasons for offering them. It is also my goal to offer incentives that will do much more than simply bring a company to Tennessee. Incentives should be offered when they will be recouped either by the number of jobs, the salaries offered to Tennesseans, the rebuilt infrastructure, increased educational and training opportunities and the positive and profitable affect their presence has on small businesses in the area. While offering incentives may result in an immediate cost, done correctly they will result in increased revenues and job opportunities in the near future.

McWherter: As Governor, I will demand that any investment Tennessee makes to grow an existing business or secure a new industry is objectively analyzed to be certain of a high rate of return to our state's economy through jobs and new revenues. Each project is unique, and in some cases for competitive reasons details of the deal cannot be immediately disclosed. But once the deal is closed, I would certainly support making that information public. I will ensure that the state has followed and met the appropriate accountability standards and procedures in every instance.

Gibbons: I have talked frequently about the need for an open and transparent government. I believe state government should be open about how our tax dollars are being spent and will work to make sure Tennesseans understand the benefits and risks of economic development projects. The bottom line is this: any economic development incentive should be based on a cost/benefit analysis in order to make sure it is a sound investment which will more than pay for itself in the long run.

Haslam: Yes. I believe that just like we do in business, the state must effectively weigh the costs and benefits of any potential investment. This should be a transparent process and should consider spending and lost revenue as well as potential effects on existing businesses. The key question is what the return on investment will be, and this calculation is absolutely something that should be made public to the taxpayers of Tennessee.

Ramsey: Economic development projects create jobs which in turn increase state revenue because of our sales tax based revenue system. The term "economic development" inherently points to the fact that economic development projects result in job creation which increases revenue to the state.

Improving our education system is one of the best economic development projects the next Governor can undertake. An educated work force is critical to job creation in every part of Tennessee. As Governor, I will continue my work to improve Tennessee's education system. When Governor Bredesen and I announced the recent education special session, we emphasized that improving education was key to creating tomorrow's jobs.

I will focus on higher education reform to ensure we train students for jobs. I will encourage the private sector to partner with our universities. For example, when the concrete industry realized there were not enough qualified people coming into the industry, they partnered with MTSU to create curriculum and a new major in concrete industry management. Private sector entities provide the scholarships and jobs for graduates. As I do now, I will regularly meet with members of the private sector to tailor our education system to meet the needs of today and tomorrow's high-paying jobs. The utility of our higher-education system is inextricably linked to our future economic growth.

Wamp: To the very best of our ability, we will absolutely do so.

Alternative energy

Gov. Phil Bredesen has aggressively pursued companies that make components and materials for the solar and biofuel industries. Would you expand that strategy to cover investments in other energy sources, such as nuclear and wind power, or technologies that reduce power consumption?

McMillan: Yes, I will expand on the pursuit of energy related companies in Tennessee's economic development efforts. These energy related investments are clearly the jobs of the future. We already have a history of vital and long-standing energy players in Tennessee, such as Alcoa, TVA, and the Oak Ridge facilities. Tennessee has been involved in the energy industry for a long time and should be considered a leader. Additionally, our generally mild climate, varied landscape and undeniable work ethic make Tennessee a highly valuable location for energy-related research and development as well as manufacturing. It will be my priority to make Tennessee the energy leader in the Southeast and one of the leaders in this field nationally.

McWherter: Thanks again to Governor Bredesen's leadership, Tennessee is now recognized as a leader in solar manufacturing. To that end, I think it will be important for us focus our efforts in building on this recent momentum in the global marketplace. That means we must pull out all the stops to explore how we can help Tennessee-based suppliers expand or retool to support this growing industry, while also seeking out suppliers from other parts of the world to invest in our state.

Once we have exhausted all possible avenues for job growth in this arena, then I do believe it makes sense for us to consider how we might position our state for growth in other related alternative energy industry sectors.

Gibbons: I commend Governor Bredesen for his effort to pursue these industries of the future, and as governor I will expand that effort wherever possible to recruit new and beneficial business to Tennessee that will create jobs for the people of our state.

Haslam: The renewable energy industry is clearly a growth industry, and I do believe it presents an opportunity for our state. My job recruitment strategy will be based on a regional approach that leverages existing assets. For instance, in Knoxville we've worked to build on assets such as UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which provide a great base for recruiting the renewable energy industry. As governor, I will actively recruit the jobs of the future from a host of industries - including the alternative energy industry - that make sense for each region's long-term plan for economic development.

Ramsey: Since becoming Lt. Governor, I have worked with the current administration to lay the groundwork for Tennessee's renewable energy industry. It is an emerging sector of the economy that we should encourage to achieve energy independence for our nation.

While I join Sen. Lamar Alexander as a promoter of nuclear power, I also join him in decrying the fraud that is wind power. Wind turbines are 300 ft. tall with flashing red lights that can be seen from 20 miles away. Turbine blades are 95 ft. long and powered by oil and coal when wind stops. Turbines create noise pollution which drives away all residential and commercial development. Sen. Alexander described the noise pollution as "a brick wrapped in a towel tumbling in a clothes drier on a perpetual basis." Even the late Ted Kennedy opposed wind power.

It is ironic that the same radical liberals who lie about so-called "mountain-top removal" support faux wind energy that would, to quote Sen. Alexander, destroy the natural vistas "atop the blue ridges of Virginia ... the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains ... and down the Tennessee River Gorge." Environmentalists have shut down California wind power because of the astronomical number of bird kills. Europe is abandoning wind power as well. It is a bad idea that will not happen in my administration.

Wamp: I believe that Tennessee has the capability to become the number one alternative energy manufacturer in the south, and I wholeheartedly support and have helped champion Governor Bredesen's emphasis on alternative energy manufacturing in Tennessee.

In the Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor, we identified energy-related manufacturing as one of our target manufacturing sectors in the mid-90s, and we have since been rewarded with investments like Wacker Chemie in Bradley County, and most recently Confluence Solar in Anderson County. These investments will bring thousands of new jobs to our state and will help make Tennessee a lead state nationally in "green energy" manufacturing and technology development.

TVA cooperation

The TVA's megasite program is credited with helping to bring Volkswagen and Hemlock Semiconductor to the state. With only the Haywood County megasite left in Tennessee, do you see other ways in which TVA and state government could cooperate to promote economic development?

McMillan: I think Tennessee is situated in a unique position by having TVA headquartered in Tennessee. We should utilize their expertise in every way possible to bring business to Tennessee as well as help train current businesses. We need to keep in mind that while megasites are a key to bringing large industries to our State, there are other opportunities for smaller sites in rural areas for economic development that a partnership with TVA is essential. As an example, I applaud the Bredesen Administration for utilizing TVA to train the weatherization network when the stimulus funds became available. While we may only hear about large business endeavors with TVA, this effort shows that TVA can help with entrepreneurs and small businesses.

McWherter: TVA is a valued partner in helping secure new industries for our region. That's why I look forward to working closely with the TVA Board to ensure that TVA continues to focus on using Tennessee resources and manpower to support its power needs for the region.

TVA's megasite program has given Tennessee a distinct competitive advantage over other states in the quest to land new industries with good paying jobs. Having TVA and its extensive power resources at the table when the state is negotiating for job growth or job retention opportunities can often be an important element to helping landing the deal.

Looking ahead I also want to continue working in tandem with TVA to help smaller local communities become more competitive for job growth through workshops, consulting and online services.

Gibbons: First, I hope the megasite program will continue, with the possibility of identifying more sites in the future. State government must see the TVA as a critical partner in our job growth effort. Safe, reliable, clean, and inexpensive electrical power is critical to our growth, and the TVA is the key to it.

Haslam: The Haywood County MegaSite is another great opportunity to bring high quality jobs to the state, and I look forward to supporting local efforts to leverage the site. TVA is a valuable partner in economic development efforts across the state, and as Mayor, I'm grateful for the important role they've played in Knoxville's economic growth and success.

In addition to the MegaSite program, TVA developed a strategic partnership with Chattanooga State Community College that led to the creation of a new degree program designed to help TVA fulfill its need for more radiation protection technicians. Furthermore, the TVA MegaSite program is a great example of how we can align resources, coordinate state and local efforts, and leverage existing assets. As governor, I will work to replicate successes such as the MegaSite program and Chattanooga State partnership across the state, while continuing to strengthen the valuable relationship we've enjoyed with TVA.

Ramsey: Yes. The installation of scrubbers at the Bull Run, Kingston and John Sevier plants will allow the TVA to buy more high-sulfur coal. With TVA and a growing export market raising prices - and new mining technologies improving coal extraction, we can create more jobs through safe, environmentally conscious coal mining.

TVA and the state of Tennessee should also partner with other states to join the call for increased nuclear power generation. Frankly, nuclear power is the one thing Europe does right. Radical liberal environmentalists in America halted safe, cheap and plentiful nuclear power based on fears spawned from the "China Syndrome," a silly Jane Fonda movie from the 1970's. Obama refuses to permit new nuclear projects, joining the Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Luddite school of thought on nuclear power generation. I will be at the forefront of a multi-state coalition dedicated to cutting your monthly energy bill by increasing safe, job creating nuclear power generation.

Wamp: While megasites, like the Haywood County site, have been and will continue to be an extremely important tool in our state's economic development, we should not forget areas that do not have a big megasite. As I have traveled to all 95 counties, it is clear we cannot take a "one size fits all" approach to economic development. Each of our state's grand divisions contains both urban and rural areas, and as Governor, I will focus on an building an economic strategy that recognizes the distinct, inter-dependent economic regions of our state, with specific initiatives to capitalize on the assets of each region to grow more jobs.

Many of our most rural counties now have 20%-plus unemployment, and that is unacceptable. We have to work even harder at providing these communities access to industry with better broadband, workforce training and roads. Our long-term goal should be that every county seat in Tennessee is connected to our interstate highway system with a four-lane road - because businesses in the future will expand or relocate only where they can find essential ingredients like good roads, trained workers and the broadband they need to succeed.

TNInvestco expansion

Would you expand the TNInvestco program, in which $120 million in tax credits are being sold to insurance companies to create a fund for venture capital investment?

McMillan: I would continue the program and I would remain open to expanding it after a review of the progress and success of the program. For example, Tennessee currently ranks in the bottom tier of states receiving venture capital funding for Clean Energy jobs and technologies. There are a couple of reasons why we need to change this statistic. First, venture capital funding is a great source for new businesses and new industries. Venture funding quite simply can provide an influx of dollars that the State's coffers cannot match for investing in new ideas, technologies and, ultimately, jobs. Second, these new ventures also secure patents for manufacturing and processes that then bring additional investment and development into the State. Again, Tennessee's rank in this area is low and should, based solely on our research and development potential, greatly improve. Rest assured, I would neither invest in nor give tax credits for anything in that high dollar range without the assurance that the payoff would surpass the investment.

McWherter: Governor Bredesen is to be commended for initiating this creative program that will help to spur business innovation in our state. Since the program is still in its infancy though, I do think we should allow some time to pass that will allow us to measure the success of the program before we decide to what degree (if any) it should be expanded."

Gibbons: The purpose of TNInvestco is to create a pool of venture capital funds that are critical to the startup phases of businesses with high growth potential. It's a great way to grow our state's entrepreneurial community, and I would like to expand it.

Haslam: I believe that government's role is to create the right environment for free enterprise to thrive, but that jobs are actually created by the private sector. While I support the idea and notion of focusing on entrepreneurship, any incentives or credits the state offers should be based on a clear potential for a positive, measurable return on investment. We should use this early period in the life of this program to evaluate its costs and benefits before determining if it should be expanded.

Ramsey: Yes. As co-author of the legislation that created the program, I would expand it to give more Tennessee-based entrepreneurs the opportunity to create jobs for fellow Tennesseans.

Wamp: Due to the economic climate the state currently faces, I would not expand the TNInvestco program at the present time.

Mountaintop removal

Would you support efforts to ban "mountaintop removal" mining techniques?

McMillan: I support the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act that seeks to prohibit surface coal mining that alters or disturbs ridgelines at elevations higher than 2,000 feet above sea level. We all know that one of our chief resources in Tennessee is our natural scenic beauty. High elevation surface coal mining extracts coal by using explosives to provide easy access but irreparably damages our mountains. As Governor, I would not support efforts that destroy our natural resources in such a way that future generations are left without the ability to enjoy what we have today.

McWherter: I would support efforts to ban mountaintop mining because I believe the risks of a long term negative impact on our environment far outweigh any possible economic benefits.

Gibbons: We are stewards of our environment. The mountains of east Tennessee must be protected both as a critical part of our environment and quality of life. They are also key to growing our tourism industry. We need to make sure we have in place adequate protections against any permanent damage to this critical state asset.

Haslam: We must recognize that coal is an important source of energy for this state. However, it is not currently legal or best practice in Tennessee to take the tops of mountains and push them down into valleys. When addressing mining issues, we must consider the importance of coal to our state, the effects on the environment and quality of life, and the jobs hanging in the balance for both the coal and tourism industries. From conversations I've had with folks on both sides of this issue, I'm convinced that a workable solution is not out of reach.

Ramsey: The so-called "mountain top removal" techniques used in other states have not been used in Tennessee. We have tough laws on the books prohibiting mountain top removal and the pollution of streams. Just last year, we prohibited the removal of coal by surface mining or surface access points to underground mining within 100 feet of the center of any stream or the disposal of overburden or waste materials from the removal of coal by surface mining within 100 feet of the center of a stream.

This is a straw man argument pushed by those who want to drive up your monthly energy bill by ending all oil and coal exploration permanently in the service of radical environmentalism. They will be discredited just as those who push man-made global warming have been discredited - by the United Nations of all places!

Wamp: "Mountaintop removal" is not actually practiced in Tennessee. Our state gave up primacy on coal mining regulation to the federal government years ago (unlike some other states), and federal law does not allow so called "mountaintop removal" in our state.

High-wall mining, however, is done in our state to reclaim abandoned mines that have been a hazard for many years. I support these responsible and effective reclamation efforts which involve replanting and reforesting around the reclaimed mines. 95 percent of all coal mining in Tennessee is now taking place in old abandoned mines being reclaimed with new, modern and responsible mining techniques.

Coal mining should be part of an "all of the above" energy approach in America, because it is both a vital energy source and a job creator available in only a few rural counties in our state.

Radioactive waste

Should Tennessee welcome or try to stop radioactive waste from other states and other countries from being sent here?

McMillan: Tennessee should not become the dumping ground for radioactive waste from other states and other countries. As the State Representative from Montgomery County, I had the opportunity to see firsthand some of the devastating effects that radioactive material exposure can have on the human body as many of my constituents had been exposed at nearby federal installations after World War II. I believe we have to be 100 guaranteed and convinced that there would be no harmful exposure to Tennessee citizens. The public safety and welfare of Tennesseans must be our first concern.

McWherter: As Governor, I will fight any attempt to make our state a dumping ground for the nation's and the world's radioactive waste.

Gibbons: I do not think Tennessee, with its growing population, is the proper place for storing radioactive waste.

Haslam: Tennessee is fortunate to be a leader in nuclear technology, and as an energy source, nuclear power is important to the future of our state. We should utilize safe and effective practices for processing, storing, and recycling the waste we produce as a state, but I do not think we should welcome waste from other states and countries. As governor, I will oppose efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy and others to send toxic waste to our state and local communities.

Ramsey: Other states and countries should be responsible for handling their own radioactive waste just as other states and countries should be responsible for their own solid waste disposal.

Wamp: We should not allow our state to be a dumping ground for nuclear waste from other countries or states. I voted in Congress late last year to not allow foreign radioactive waste to be shipped and permanently stored in our state, and I will continue that approach as Governor.

E-mail Times Free Press Managing Editor Larry Henry at lhenry@timesfreepress.com.

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