When the 111th General Assembly begins on Tuesday, much will be new. We will inaugurate Bill Lee as our governor. Glen Casada will be elected speaker of the House. Over 30 members of the General Assembly will be new.
Change can be intimidating and even chaotic. But it can also be energizing and refreshing. New leaders bring fresh perspectives and ideas. It will be an exciting opportunity for renewal as Republicans continue to build on their success.
The last eight years of unified Republican government saw remarkable levels of achievement. More Tennesseans have a job than ever before. We achieved AAA credit ratings from all three rating agencies. We became the most improved state in the nation in education according to the National Assessment of Education test. And we cut taxes by $800 million.
All the promises made during the Republican road to the majority became promises kept while in office. But there is much left to do.
This is why I am most excited by the inauguration of our new governor. He understands the great progress that's been made. But he also knows this is no time to rest on our laurels. Bill Lee wants Tennessee not just to improve or be the best in the southeast. He wants Tennessee to lead the nation. I do, too.
The state budget is the top priority
Our most important challenge next session will be the budget. While there will be other pieces of legislation written up in the media and chatted about in the hallways, it is the budget that lays out the true priorities of Tennessee’s state government.
There is nothing easy about putting together a budget. There are many worthy programs and causes. But we have to make choices. In the past eight years, we have made good choices. We have funded our priorities, made government work better, cut taxes and saved for the inevitable rainy day.
While unemployment is low, wages are on the rise and our economy is growing. It may not always be so. We have not experienced a recession during the last eight years.
Our success proves Tennessee knows how to create an environment where businesses thrive and jobs grow. But no one is immune to the business cycle. Our policies are designed to weather a recession well, but we can’t expect to escape unscathed.
That is why our rainy day account is so important. While $800 million is a big number, it is only enough to run our government for a few months. We should continue to bolster that account.
Tennessee will remain responsible and pro-growth
Tennessee is not like Washington. We rank as one of the best financially managed states in the nation. We refuse to pass on debt to future generations. This will continue.
Governor-elect Lee has indicated he will focus on strengthening vocational education, reducing prison recidivism and bringing more economic development to our rural areas. These are policy goals that should have strong and broad support.
It is important as Tennessee grows and succeeds that no one is left behind. As businesses come to Tennessee to take advantage of our pro-growth environment, we need to make sure our workforce is prepared.
When we can rehabilitate those who have committed crimes and return them to a productive life, we must do that. And as our state sees growth and development, we must make sure prosperity is shared in all corners of the state, urban and rural.
Tennessee has been ranked as one of the best financially managed states in the nation. Unemployment, taxes and debt are at record or near record lows. Tennessee is in an extremely good position. Our challenge now is making sure we stay in that position and work to extend our success so it reaches every Tennessean.
Together we will.
Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, is the speaker of the Tennessee state Senate and serves as lieutenant governor.