Watson accepts Haslam's challenge


During this week's State of the State address, Gov. Bill Haslam gave an unexpected shout-out and challenge to Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

Watson is chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which is responsible for the periodic review of state agencies, boards and commissions as well as of administrative rules and regulations.

Haslam asked the General Assembly to begin "reviewing every board and commission. Determine whether 140 boards and commissions are necessary."

Noting Watson's role as chairman, Haslam said "for 18 months he and his colleagues have been looking at this issue, and they have made progress. We can and should do more."

Said Watson later: "I like it."

Eliminating more likely will be a challenge though, politically speaking, Watson said.

"Many of these have been in existence for a long time, and they have their own little core constituencies who cling very tightly to their power and their autonomy. In my six years of doing it now, I've learned it's hard to reform them. But we've been committed."

The state's list of boards and commissions regulate professions and business activities ranging from major entities such as the Air Pollution Control Board and Board of Nursing to more obscure boards such as the Locksmith Licensing Program.

Job creation

The debate continues between Republicans such as Gov. Haslam and legislative Democrats over government's role in job creation.

Haslam and virtually every other Republican and Democratic candidate campaigned on jobs last year. But when Haslam recently said "we're not going to create a whole lot of jobs by legislation," Democrats saw an opening they haven't stopped hitting.

After Haslam presented his budget this week, Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said, "I've been looking at the budget and the legislation so far with that perspective and just haven't seen a great deal of focus on job creation.

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"Everybody's spent millions of dollars campaigning on jobs and there certainly wasn't a lot of talk that government can't help with that," Berke said.

Earlier in the day, reporters pressed Haslam about the issue during a roundtable discussion.

"We're not at all saying we can't do anything about it [jobs]," Haslam said. "We're saying you're not going to create jobs through legislation, that there's not a jobs bill that we're going to pass that's going to make something happen.

"I think we're doing a lot about it," Haslam said. "I spend a lot of my time out actively involved in economic development. I think we're doing things to keep the state being the kind of place people want to invest."

While the governor isn't pushing legislation such as business tax credits, his budget does call for $131.6 million to meet previous commitments including $34.6 million in additional infrastructure funding for Wacker Chemical Co.'s $1.45 billion plant in Bradley County. The plant, recruited under Haslam's predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, is expected to employ 650 people.