KINGSPORT — Tennessee’s top rankings for everything from low debt to net job growth were showcased by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other Northeast Tennessee lawmakers at a Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Legislative Barbecue Tuesday night.
“Tennessee is getting award after award and recognition after recognition for the way we’ve run the state,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said at the event attended by about 150 business leaders at the Kingsport Farmers Market.
Republicans hold supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, and state government is led by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
Ramsey cited Tennessee having the lowest debt per capita among all 50 states as judged by the Tax Foundation; Bankrate.com rating Tennessee as the number one state to retire; the U.S. Department of Commerce ranking Tennessee number one in the nation in auto manufacturing strength; and Tennessee being rated fourth in the nation in net new jobs (138,000) since 2011 by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Even George Mason University, Ramsey said, ranked Tennessee third in the nation in overall freedom. “They based it on taxes, on business regulation and on Second Amendment rights,” he said of the GMU freedom ranking.
Ramsey also touted the state’s three-year growth in student test scores, graduation rates and teacher salaries.
While giving Ramsey credit for Tennessee’s progress, state Rep. Jon Lundberg promised to reintroduce his legislation calling for localities to be allowed to hold referendums to sell wine in grocery stores.
Lundberg, R-Bristol, noted Food City CEO Steve Smith testified in favor of the bill — which didn’t make it out of committee — in the last legislative session.
“(Smith’s) remark was ‘I’ve been selling wine to Tennesseans for years, but I’ve been doing it from my Virginia stores,’” Lundberg said.
After Lundberg spoke, state Rep. Tony Shipley cited his two years worth of legislative work to eradicate synthetic drugs from the region.
But Shipley, R-Kingsport, said more has to be done to cut down meth manufacturing in the state.
Shipley, who chairs a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said there will be an effort to make meth precursors — namely cold tablets — less available.
He also promised more regulation for so-called “pill mills” and pain clinics. “We’re going to have to get a handle on that,” Shipley said.
Finally, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Catherine Glover praised lawmakers for passing workers’ compensation reform that removes cases from local courts and creates a new administrative system tied to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“The year 2013 was a good year for business in Tennessee,” Glover said. “The biggest deal was workers’ compensation reform. This puts us in a new league as far as business expansion and attraction goes. Prior to this, every state that touched us, their (workers’ compensation) rates were cheaper.”
A workshop explaining how workers’ compensation reform will work will be held at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 28 from 9 a.m. to noon.