BY: AMY NOLAN
The Knoxville Chamber’s priorities for this year’s Tennessee General Assembly revolve around issues key to creating a more prosperous Tennessee – education, health and preservation of the state’s business-friendly environment through tax, regulation and other public policies.
The Chamber’s Government Relations Committee began last fall working on its 2018 Legislative Agenda after hearing projections from state Finance Commissioner Larry Martin on the state’s budget, which is expected to be significantly leaner than in recent years.
Gov. Bill Haslam has told legislators he expects $350 million in “new money” for the budget, much of which will be consumed by inflationary growth in K-12 and higher education, TennCare, and employees’ health insurance and pensions.
It’s widely expected that the Governor’s final budget will contain new fund-ing to address the state’s opioid epidemic, a crisis that is of great concern to employers.
With the absence of any large scale initiative — such as last year’s IMPROVE Act, which contained the largest tax cut in state history while creating dedicated funding for 1,000 road and bridge projects — the Knoxville Chamber’s priorities reflect interest in building upon the momentum the state has made in improving K-12 education, creating more post-secondary train-ing opportunities and maintaining an environment conducive to economic development.
“Our committee, in a very thoughtful manner, sought to focus on those issues that are vital to improving the economic prosperity of our region today and over the long-term,” said Susan Richardson Williams, chairwoman of the Chamber’s Government Relations & Public Policy Committee and the owner of the public affairs firm SRW & Associates.
Mike Edwards, the Knoxville Chamber’s president and CEO, said the agendas serve as the foundation of the Chamber’s advocacy efforts, al-though it’s not uncommon that an issue will arise during the legislative session that requires quick consideration and action by members who serve on its leadership committees.
The Knoxville Chamber creates three legislative agendas, reflecting its collaborations within the wider business community. They include the initial document from the Knoxville Chamber; a second in partnership with neighboring Chambers in Blount County and Oak Ridge; and lastly, one in collaboration with the “Big 4” Chambers. Each has been approved by the respective Chambers’ Government Relations Committee; Executive Committee and Board of Directors.
In their letter to the Knox County delegation, Edwards and Williams extended their gratitude to lawmakers for their accessibility and interaction with the Chamber’s members, particularly as bills make their way through the Tennessee General Assembly.
Williams and Chamber Chairman Terry Turner, owner of All Occasions Party Rentals, joined about a dozen Chamber members in traveling to Nashville during the Legislature’s opening week to host a reception for lawmakers in partnership with the Chambers in Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis.
Another opportunity to discuss upcoming issues with lawmakers was held on Friday, Jan. 26. The Regional Legislative Agenda Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast and co-hosted by the Blount Partnership and Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, was in Knoxville this year at the Embassy Suites.
The Chamber also hosts local legislators for its upcoming Capitol Connections series which are scheduled for 8 a.m. Feb. 9, March 9 and April 13. Watch the Chamber newsletters and website for more details as to speakers and topics.