October 10, 2011

Credit Rating Agencies Confirm What Tennesseans Already Knew 

Last Monday, we received news that the three credit rating agencies have given Tennessee top marks for credit and fiscal management.

Moody’s Investor Service and Fitch Inc. rate Tennessee AAA. Standard & Poor’s gives us AA+ with a positive outlook. These ratings demonstrate sound fiscal management, keep our costs low, and keep us in the forefront of great places to do business.

Several weeks ago, Governor Haslam, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Treasurer David Lillard, Comptroller Justin Wilson, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and Finance & Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes traveled to New York to meet with officials from the rating agencies. The agencies were impressed by the manner in which Tennessee conducts business, honors commitments, and balances budgets. Our ratings send the message to Washington D.C. that, “We know how to tighten our belts, make tough decisions, and balance our budget. Why can’t you?”

Tennessee Wins Major Awardin Education Reform 

On September 27, Tennessee was awarded the “Best Kept Secret” by the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network for SB 1528. Teacher tenure reform ties tenure to student performance and evaluations.  PIE describes the award as “a major advance in education policy that did not attract the attention…voters thought it deserved.”  I was honored to sponsor this groundbreaking legislation on behalf on Governor Haslam.

One of the Most Important Things the Legislature Did This Year 

As many of you know, I am adamant about protecting the integrity of the ballot box and your right to vote. Every voter has the right to know that their vote is counted and that their vote isn’t negated by someone not legally authorized to vote.  Since 2005, I have sponsored legislation requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. It was routinely blocked by the Democrats. This year, I passed SB 352.  This important legislation enables the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections to scrutinize and cross-reference all noncitizen driver licenses or certificates against voter registration rolls.  Using the list, those unable to provide proof of citizenship will be purged from the voter rolls. Similar legislation in Colorado produced more than 11,000 noncitizens on the voter registry of which nearly 5,000 voted in the 2010 election.

State law provides for the issuance of temporary driver licenses for noncitizens.  The Tennessee Department of Safety reported that there are over 19,500 temporary licenses issued and over 1,000 valid driving certificates issued under previous state law.  The potential for election fraud could be significant but we need to find out. Mark Goins, Coordinator of Elections, said, “As far as potentially taking ineligible voters off the rolls, it’s potentially one of the most important things the Legislature did this year.”

Media Distorts the Facts? Say it Ain’t So!

 Earlier this week, some media made Tennessee seem second only to Washington, D.C. in gun crimes. The statistics used to “rank” Tennessee, however, came from an FBI database which discourages such comparisons:

“Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation—use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents…The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, counties, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment. Until data users examine all the variables that affect crime in a town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction, they can make no meaningful comparisons.”

The truth is, in Memphis from January 1 – August 31, 2011, major violent crime, which includes murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault and robbery, has decreased 36.7 percent since 2006. Major property crime has also declined over the past five years, down 42 percent across the City of Memphis when compared to the first eight months of 2006.

In addition, according to TBI Director Mark Gwyn, statewide crime is down more than 7% in Group A offenses, which encompass 22 different categories of crime including arson, assault, burglary, homicide, robbery, stolen weapons, and weapon law violations.

Successful passage of my stricter gun violence legislation in 2007 and 2009, dubbed the “Crooks with Guns” laws, have helped to reduce crime rates while imposing harsher penalties on criminals.

Travel with Me Up the Great River Road

On Friday, September 30, I joined Mayor AC Wharton, the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee, the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Tennessee Departments of Transportation and Tourist Development, and leaders from six counties to unveil the first of the signs that will line the “Great River Road” along Tennessee’s Mississippi River border.  64 sites within six counties – some businesses, some sites of historic or natural interest, but all uniquely West Tennessean – will be adorned by special signs and promoted through maps and brochures designed to guide travelers up and down our stretch of the Mighty Mississippi.

It has been rewarding to help lead the charge for this great tourism and economic development achievement, from acquiring our National Scenic Byway designation by the federal government to securing the minimal funds needed to prepare the signage and information that will guide Tennesseans and tourists as they enjoy our communities and support locally-owned businesses for years to come. This is Tennessee’s economy at its best – realizing our potential by building on resources we already enjoy.  I encourage you to plan a trip up the Great River Road.  Visit http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/byways/2279 to plan your day, weekend, or spur-of-the-moment getaway and learn more about the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways program. Click the links below to see where folks are reading and talking about West Tennessee.  I am proud to represent Tennessee’s “West Coast!”

With me at the Great River Road launch event were (L to R): Mark Twain; Marty Marbry of the TN Dept. of Tourist Development; Col. Vernie Reichling, District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Shawn Bible of the TN Dept. of Transportation; Paula Hankins of the TN Dept. of Transportation; and Diana Threadgill, Executive Director of the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee.

With me at the Great River Road launch event were (L to R): Mark Twain; Marty Marbry of the TN Dept. of Tourist Development; Col. Vernie Reichling, District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Shawn Bible of the TN Dept. of Transportation; Paula Hankins of the TN Dept. of Transportation; and Diana Threadgill, Executive Director of the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee.

 

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