Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finney and Fitzhugh call out Haslam for lackluster jobs proposal

Here's an op-ed by Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) and House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) in today's Tennessean:

Haslam should back up talk of job creation
Gov. Bill Haslam's State of the State address followed the blueprint of responsible spending and tough choices that former Gov. Phil Bredesen laid out over the previous eight years. Thanks to our previous governor's leadership, we are in better financial shape than most of the country.

But the state's financial health means little to the nearly 300,000 unemployed Tennesseans who can't provide for their families, or the hundreds of thousands more who want a full-time job and can't find one. When presented with proposals to help small-business owners grow and create jobs in Tennessee, lawmakers in the majority party have dismissed them as "hokey" while claiming that government doesn't create jobs. They are more focused on printing their own money than helping put more money back into Tennesseans' pockets.

Yet in Gov. Haslam's speech, he outlined $182 million in economic development funds and other investments in projects across the state, "as a stimulus for new jobs and new business investment." It appears the governor has decided, after all, that government has a role to play in creating jobs. Such an investment is a start, but more needs to be done to support our small-business owners and encourage businesses to start, relocate and grow in Tennessee.

Major investments like those by Volkswagen and Hemlock required a governor who was all-in for jobs. Tennessee needs that kind of hands-on approach, now more than ever, through investments like the West Tennessee megasite, which is not funded in the governor's proposal. We believe that our rural communities should have the same opportunities as Chattanooga and Montgomery County, especially in areas with continued double-digit unemployment rates. Until we see that kind of proactive commitment from the majority party, they cannot truly say that they are working to put Tennesseans back to work.

College cuts are a misstep
In order to attract those jobs to Tennessee, we must also increase the number of Tennesseans with college degrees. A highly trained work force is the top priority for businesses relocating to Tennessee, and that training will come largely through our higher education institutions. Unfortunately, our colleges and universities are facing even more budget cuts, and those shortfalls will be made up almost entirely through tuition increases.

Increased fees are essentially a tax on our Tennessee students, many of whom have returned to school to train for a new career after losing a job. We're telling low-income students that their scholarships will remain steady, but continued tuition hikes effectively decrease their scholarships. If we're serious about job creation, we have to also be serious about giving Tennesseans the opportunity to train for those jobs. Cutting their legs out from under them with continued tuition hikes isn't the answer.

The governor ended his address Monday with a call to avoid partisanship. We remain ready to work with him and the majority in the legislature to help put Tennesseans back to work. Such efforts will require an increased focus on job creation and job training, until everyone who is willing to work is able to find a job. We're not there yet and judging by the governor's speech, we still have a lot of work to do.

State Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson is the Senate Democratic Caucus chairman. Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley is the House Democratic leader.

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