Tennessee voters spoke loud and clear last November when they overwhelmingly reelected Republicans to represent them at every level. I’m proud to say, Republicans in the 112th General Assembly have delivered on the promise to uphold Tennessee values, improve education, strengthen communities and increase economic opportunities.
Our primary goal each year is always the same: to pass a balanced budget. From top to bottom, this year’s $42.6 billion zero-debt budget is a spending plan created to address the priorities and needs of all Tennesseans.
When faced with the same challenges due to the pandemic, other states raised taxes. Here in Tennessee, we’re putting money back into the pockets of taxpayers. Republicans cut more than $50 million in taxes for a one-week sales tax holiday on groceries and prepared foods during the week of July 30-Aug. 5 in addition to the usual sales tax holiday when students head back to school. We’ve also included a one-year sales tax exemption on firearm safes and locking devices that begins July 1.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Tennessee was one of only seven states in the nation that experienced positive economic growth since the pandemic began. Republicans have established a tradition of fiscal responsibility and because of careful spending decisions, we were able to return to many of our pre-pandemic legislative priorities this year.
We made strategic investments in this year’s budget that further builds on conservative priorities and strengthens Tennessee’s standing as the most fiscally responsible state in the nation. We continued to invest in our state’s saving’s account, bringing the total Rainy-Day fund to a record-high of $1.55 billion.
We recognize the rising need to address the mental health in our schools. We have invested $250 million to establish K-12 Mental Health Trust Fund Act which helps provide direct clinical services in schools and support interventions for our students.
Despite a global pandemic, new companies continue to move to the Volunteer State and bring high-quality jobs. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development reports more than 14,300 new jobs created in 2020. This is truly remarkable in a year that will be remembered for a worldwide economic meltdown due to Covid-19.
In an effort to better prepare a highly-skilled workforce, the General Assembly has joined with Gov. Bill Lee to enhance vocational training programs across the state. We’re investing $79 million to address the needs of our Tennessee Colleges of Applied Sciences. These funds will invest in facilities, new programs and instructors to meet growing demand.
Some of our economic development initiatives include heavy investments for infrastructure throughout Tennessee communities. We’ve pledged $100 million to further support broadband expansion that gives every Tennessean access to high-speed broadband internet. More than $145 million will be dedicated for air and rail transportation infrastructure. We’ve included a $75 million investment for economic development FastTrack grants that will support job growth by improving infrastructure for amenities like roadways, airports, water, sewer, and gas.
Finally, we are sending $100 million in grant funding back to all Tennessee counties and municipalities. These funds will be used at the discretion of local leaders who best understand the needs of their communities.
I hope you feel as fortunate as I do to live in the Volunteer State. We are prepared and ready to face whatever tomorrow brings. I am honored to serve as your voice in Nashville. I look forward to continuing our work together, strengthening communities and increasing opportunities for the next generation.
William Lamberth is the House Majority Leader for the 112th General Assembly. He is a member of several House committees including Finance, Ways, and Means, Government Operations, Criminal Justice and Calendar & Rules. Lamberth lives in Portland and represents Tennessee House District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.