Make 2015 the Year of Freedom

January 13, 2015 11:12AM

At noon today, a new Tennessee General Assembly gavels in for the 109th time. The future is bright for Tennessee, which consistently ranks among the best states to do business, and is considered a low tax, low debt state. However, as surrounding states seek to pass bold reforms to expand economic liberty and bring relief to taxpayers, we must not rest on our laurels. The new legislature will face a number of challenges over the coming months, with outcomes that will dramatically impact the direction of our fair state. The session will determine whether Tennessee remains the envy of our neighbors and states across the country—or whether we are eclipsed by others more committed to advancing free market principles. The following issues will take center-stage in determining which direction our state will pivot in 2015. Medicaid Expansion: The most important decision to be made by the legislature will be whether to assist the Obama administration in cementing Obamacare as a permanent national policy, despite the fact that conservatives made substantial gains in November’s elections. With every state that takes federal Medicaid expansion dollars, it becomes increasingly difficult for the new Republican Congress to roll back or repeal Obamacare. And by partnering with the president to expand Medicaid in Tennessee, Gov. Haslam opens up a massive entitlement program to some 200,000 able-bodied, mostly childless adults. An expansion also means an increase in Tennessee’s already heavy reliance upon federal funding—already the third highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. It also means longer lines for all Medicaid patients, who are already being turned away by 40 percent of doctors. Lawmakers should reject an expansion and instead seek free market reforms that will drive down the cost of healthcare, making treatment more affordable and accessible for Tennesseans in need. Right to Try: One of the first healthcare reforms that can be tackled is already gaining steam across the nation. Known as Right to Try, this proposal would allow terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving medication that has been deemed safe by the FDA but is still ensnared in the agency’s decade-long approval process. In fact, many of these treatments have been available in other countries for years. The sickest among us don’t have time to wait for the FDA to send these drugs to market. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should pass this this bill and remove the barrier between Tennessee’s terminal patients and the possibility of a cure. School Choice: Thousands of Tennessee children remain trapped in a school that is failing to meet their needs. Every child deserves a quality education, and school choice will empower their parents to choose the school that is best for them. Nearly every problem we face as a state—poverty, crime, dependence, poor health—can be improved with a quality education. After several years of debating an opportunity scholarship program, it’s time the legislature follow the lead of nearly two-dozen other states and bring meaningful school choice to Tennessee families. Hall Tax: While Tennesseans overwhelmingly banned an income tax on labor this past November, another tax weighs heavily on our state’s residents and prevents us from truly becoming income tax-free. Each year, thousands of middle-class retirees fork over a substantial portion of their savings to the government via the Hall Income Tax. This tax also drives investors out of our state who could otherwise help put Tennesseans back to work. And because the main proposal pending before the legislature is crafted in a fiscally responsible way, repealing the tax will have a negligible impact on state and local revenues. These key issues—rejecting a Medicaid expansion, promoting right to try, enacting a school choice program, and eliminating the Hall Tax—are the most important things lawmakers can do during the few months they are in Nashville. Then they can return home to their districts having advanced the freedom and prosperity of all Tennesseans. -Justin Owen & Lindsay Boyd