In this March 31, 2011 file photo, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is shown in his office in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
KINGSPORT — Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told about 60 business leaders Thursday to look for future unemployment compensation system changes favoring employers.
Ramsey, during his “Red Tape Road Trip” luncheon highlighting government’s negative effect on business, said he’s been getting an earful from employers about people opting for an unemployment check rather than seeking a job when the state’s jobless rate remains well above 9 percent.
He cited a trucking company that wants but can’t find drivers and a heating and cooling firm with unfilled technician positions.
“When does it become a benefit and when does it become a lifestyle?” Ramsey, R-Blountville, asked of the current unemployment compensation system.
Weekly unemployment pay averages $285 a week, and beneficiaries aren’t pressed hard enough to look for work, Ramsey said.
About 400,000 workers file initial and partial unemployment claims annually while approximately 114,000 employers pay premiums for unemployment insurance, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Ramsey’s special assistant, Jordan Young, found about two-thirds of state unemployment claims are rejected in favor of the employer upon appeal.
“There are jobs out there. ... It may not be the job you want, but there are jobs out there,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey’s event also spotlighted his www.TNRedtape.com Web site documenting anti-business state government decisions.
“Every day a permit lies on a desk, a job is not created,” Ramsey said.
He said a farm pond operator’s first contact with the state was a letter threatening the operator with a $10,000-a-day fine and told the story of a Christmas wreath maker who needed a state permit to back a trailer into his warehouse.
“The ironic part about this is we will have some people get on the Web site and call us and then we will ask ‘Can we use this publicly?’” Ramsey said of the information collected by the Web site. “Most people don’t want to be cited publicly. ... They are dealing with the Department of Revenue, the Department of Environment and Conservation, and think there will be repercussions.”
Tennessee Small Business Advocate Lauren Plunk said last month she fielded about 65 inquiries from small business owners interacting with state government.
“Many inquiries are general questions about how to start a small business, which departments and agencies an individual would need to register with, or whether there are resources out there for financial assistance,” she said in an e-mail. “In these cases, I really am serving as a referral service to other resources specifically tailored to an individual’s particular concern. ... Frequently, the issues are tax-related (sales and use tax, employment tax, franchise and excise tax, audit findings, etc.). However, there have been other instances where a small business owner has filed a particular application, most often a licensure or permit application, and is having difficulty getting it processed. ... Sometimes the issue is resolved in a quick phone call. Other times, the process requires me contacting a number of people, lots of correspondence and follow-up, and can take a week or two to resolve.”
Jim Brown, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, which paid for Thursday’s luncheon, said he has gotten complaints about state boards and commissions and “the fees they pass on” to small businesses.
But federal regulations, Brown said, are a bigger concern.
“There are 4,200 regs in the pipeline at the federal level today. ... One thousand of those are job killing,” Brown said. “It costs small businesses with 10 or fewer employees $10,000 per employee to comply with existing regs. ... There are 150,000 pages of federal regs now. ... The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) code is 25,000 pages.”
Ramsey’s Web site, paid for by his political action committee, has been criticized by Democrats as more political than substantive.
But Ramsey said with GOP Gov. Bill Haslam, he has a willing partner to install a pro-business culture within state government.
In an e-mail, Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said: “We agree that an efficient and effective state government is a key priority. Since taking office, we’ve been focused on top-to-bottom reviews of each department, a comprehensive review of rules and regulations, and customer-focused government initiatives. The governor has also spent a lot of time listening to businesses across the state to learn what we do well in Tennessee and what we can do better. We appreciate the support of the lieutenant governor and his interest in these issues.”