By Senator Page Walley
The General Assembly will convene on January 11 to begin the 2022 session of the 112th General Assembly. The state budget, tax relief, education funding, redistricting, access to quality healthcare and mental health services and continuing the state’s robust job growth are among a wide variety of issues expected to be on the agenda.
Redistricting — One of the top issues on the 2022 legislative agenda will be redistricting Tennessee’s Senate, House and Congressional districts. Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton formed bipartisan committees to take on the task of redistricting in a transparent redistricting process. They also offered the public and interested groups an opportunity to use state-of-the-art software to construct and submit a plan to the committees for consideration.
Tennessee’s population increase of 8.9% has not grown evenly across the state with a rapid growth in the Middle Tennessee counties surrounding Nashville. This means that districts in rural West Tennessee and rural East Tennessee must grow, including our 26th senatorial district. Expect redistricting legislation to be completed very early in the session.
Budget — The budget is always a top issue but it will be especially important due to strong tax collections, excess revenues and the flow of federal stimulus funds into Tennessee. The state is in the best financial condition in recent history. Economic advisors, however, have cautioned that one-time stimulus funds, changing spending patterns and high inflation could cause revenues to wane in the next fiscal year.
Expect the legislature to be very thoughtful in how state dollars are budgeted by possibly even taking a multi-year approach in spending. This is to ensure Tennessee maintains its strong financial stability which has gained the state the status of being the best financially managed state in the nation.
Tax Relief — There will also be discussion in the 2022 legislative session regarding returning some of the excess revenues to taxpayers in the form of tax relief. Expect budget discussions to include further tax relief for the remaining seven professions subject to the professional privilege tax. The legislature could also revisit fees paid by our farmers and small businesses organized as Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). The fees at $3,000 maximum are substantially greater than the $100 paid by businesses to file as a C Corporation. Other forms of tax relief will also be discussed as legislators look for ways to put more hard-earned money back in the pockets of Tennesseans in a way that affects the most people.
BEP — Like the state budget, education is always a top issue for the Tennessee General Assembly. In October, Governor Bill Lee announced he is tackling the state’s education funding formula for K-12 schools. He believes the 30-year-old formula should be modernized and revised to be more transparent, effective and student-centered. In order to identify the BEP’s strengths and weaknesses, the Department of Education formed a central steering committee and 18 subcommittees who rigorously reviewed the formula. The steering committee’s recommendations could come before the General Assembly in the 2022 legislative session. I will be watching this issue very closely to ensure our local schools are well funded by any proposed changes to the BEP.
Health Care — Health care will continue to be a top priority in 2022 with a variety of important issues on tap for discussion by the General Assembly. Legislators will look for ways to continue to support healthcare systems, lower costs, increase access, and improve quality of care for all Tennesseans. This includes mental health services with many persons impacted by the pandemic.
Health care in Tennessee’s rural communities will also be discussed. Last year, the General Assembly appropriated $5.5 million in recurring funds to get more medical residents into our rural hospitals, particularly family practice doctors. Expect these efforts to continue this year, as well as other measures to ensure the state’s rural health departments are well maintained, equipped and running smoothly to better serve our communities.
Jobs — The General Assembly will continue to focus on providing an environment that will boost Tennessee’s economy in the 2022 legislative session. In 2021, despite the pandemic Tennessee secured 130 economic projects representing nearly 35,000 job commitments and nearly $13 billion in capital investment. This includes the Ford Motor Company located in our district. The General Assembly will look at measures to bolster the state’s workforce and eliminate hurdles that are keeping workers from returning to it. This includes education and other efforts to provide Tennesseans with the skills they need to get a great job.
Rural Economic Development — An important issue for the 2022 session of the Tennessee General Assembly is continuing to address barriers to economic success in the state’s rural communities. Upon taking office, Governor Bill Lee ordered all Tennessee departments of state government to specifically address challenges unique to rural communities and has worked with the legislature to boost resources for them. The number of Tennessee counties listed as distressed was reduced in 2021 to nine, a 52 percent decrease in four years.
Likewise, expect Governor Lee to continue to work with the General Assembly to spur agricultural advancements that will support jobs in the state’s rural communities. Agriculture is 13 percent of the state’s economy, but many believe the industry is still emerging, including development of the technology industry which can advance it.
Broadband will continue to be a top priority of the General Assembly this year to help rural and underserved communities grow and thrive.
In closing, I look forward to hearing from you regarding your views on the issues before us. Please feel free to call, email or write me regarding your thoughts about how we can make our district and state and better place to live.
May you have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!