The Best, and the Worst, of Tennessee’s Legislative Session
BY JORDAN LONG
Education received a major overhaul in Tennessee this year when the legislature passed Gov. Bill Lee’s legislation to replace our decades-old funding formula with one that funds students, not systems. The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA) replaces dozens of complicated metrics with a base amount per student, plus weights for students with unique learning needs. A student-based funding formula brings greater transparency and accountability to educational spending. Beacon Impact, the (c)4 sister advocacy organization of the Beacon Center, worked to ensure passage of this major reform.
Expansion of Parental Choice
Students with Dyslexia are now able to take advantage of the state’s school choice program for students with special needs. These families will be able to take some of the dollars dedicated to their child to pay for tuition, tutoring, education therapy, textbooks, or other learning material that provides the best support to ensure their child gets a quality education. This expansion will double the number of students eligible for the program.
The legislature tackled several permanent tax cuts this year. Tennessee businesses that conduct research and development (R&D) avoided a state tax hike by decoupling from the federal tax code, which would have prohibited a business from deducting all R&D expenses in the year incurred. Additionally, the legislature chipped away at the professional privilege tax. Tennessee’s Professional Privilege Tax is a $400 annual tax for the “privilege” of working in a handful of fields and the last tax preventing us from being a truly income tax-free state. This year, physicians were removed from the list, leaving only five professions subject to the arbitrary tax.
Most, if not all, attempts to strengthen property rights failed miserably at the hands of taxpayer-funded lobbyists this session. Legislation seeking to prohibit local governments from banning and over-regulating short-term and experience-based rentals failed to make it out of the House Local Government Committee. Legislation to allow property owners to have food trucks on their own property without the food truck owner having to go through onerous permitting also failed to make it out of a House committee. Once a bill finds itself on the radar of taxpayer-funded lobbyists, they all band together to make sure their city is either exempted from the legislation or that the measure fails altogether. Taxpayer-funded lobbyists, the only lobbyists that don’t have to disclose their compensation from their clients, were quite successful in making sure that nobody encroaches on a local government’s ability to limit their citizens’ use of their property this session.
Taxpayer Collection of Union Dues
Another measure that failed to make it out of its House committee would have prohibited local school districts from collecting teacher union dues on the taxpayer dime. Teachers should absolutely be able to join a union if they choose, but it shouldn’t be the government’s responsibility to collect and remit those dues to the union.
Funding Another Stadium
The legislature has no problem funding stadiums for sports teams, despite the fact that their owners are usually billionaires. This year, the legislature approved a $500 million bond to help pay for a new Titans stadium, with the state on the hook for the debt service, which comes in at $55 million a year. Coupled with this was a hotel/motel tax increase in Nashville to help pay for the city of Nashville’s contribution to the stadium. Even after the $2 billion-plus stadium is built, taxpayers will still be paying off the debt of the demolished Nissan Stadium where the Titans currently play.