Thursday, June 28, 2012
Having a daughter in college, I can strongly attest that we all care about the rising costs of a college education. I am very concerned about the number of students that have gone into debt to pay for a college education. I am equally as concerned about those who have gone into debt and have not completed their degree or do not complete their education within the desired four-year timeline. Continuing education into a fifth or sixth year and beyond greatly adds to the problem of student debt.
It is a matter that needs to be addressed if we are going to increase the number of graduates from Tennessee’s colleges and universities. The Democrats’ call for a special session on the matter, however, is very disingenuous and reeks of election-year politics.
The records show that tuition in both the Board of Regents and University of Tennessee systems have increased every year since 1984, during years of revenue surplus and those which fell short of the estimated marks. These were also overwhelmingly years in which Democrats had control of the House and Senate and the governor’s office. The governor makes the appointments to the higher education boards which control tuition hikes.
So why call for a special session this year and at this time? Special sessions outside of the January to May time frame are generally reserved for emergency situations. A special session would cost taxpayers $22,800 per day in per diem and $16,600 per week in travel costs under usual situations. However, this year the Capitol building, where the General Assembly meets, is closed for repairs and there would be much added expense to secure a facility and the equipment that would be needed to be in compliance with our open government laws.
Although the political timing is extremely suspect and the operating cost would be more than usual for a special session, my most important concern is that we address the matter carefully and look at the higher education system as a whole instead of having a knee-jerk reaction. Just because we have excess revenues that exceeded our budget estimates does not mean that we have to rush out today and spend it without looking at our needs in a comprehensive way.
Since his first day in office, Gov. Bill Haslam has conducted a top-to-bottom review of various departments of state government. As a result of these efforts, legislation was passed this year to streamline several areas of state government to make it work more efficiently and effectively. The governor has said he wants to spend the coming months examining the cost of college and ways the state could help make it more affordable.
He also wants to look at workforce development and how to ensure students are prepared for the jobs of the future. The governor has made it clear that he will be working with a wide spectrum of business, higher education and other stakeholders to look at the big picture of how we are performing to meet our core mission of giving our students the opportunities they need in a very competitive world economy. This is in addition to looking at any efficiencies we can gain in completing that task.
In regard to the call by the Democrats to accelerate the tax relief sponsored by Republicans which passed this year, the better than expected collections prompted us to further reduce the food tax from 5.5 to 5.25 percent. The goal is to phase in further reductions when we return to Capitol Hill next year. The food tax reduction is in addition to approval of legislation to phase out the state’s death tax and eliminate the gift tax this year, and passage of Hall tax relief for senior citizens last year. Under Republican leadership we have finally been able to see progress in providing some tax relief to our citizens. We will continue that effort in the next General Assembly.
At the same time, we must be very careful in how we plan for the future. Obamacare will cost Tennessee over $200 million per year unless the U.S. Supreme Court finds in favor of the plaintiffs. Plus, we need to be prepared for potential cuts from Washington if the federal government decreases expenditures to programs in order to manage their long-term debt. We must keep our state’s rainy day fund healthy to meet these challenges and others that might come in a shaky world economic market.
The people of Tennessee expect us to be prudent stewards of their tax dollars. We need to address the rising cost of tuition and continue our efforts to provide tax relief. They also expect us to do it in a responsible manner. That is what we intend to do.
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- MTSU Wraps China Visit
- Senators Ketron and Tracy announce grant for Smyrna Airport
- Senator Ketron files bill authorizing use of student photo IDs issued by state universities for voting purposes
- Senators Ketron and Tracy Sign on Legislation to Exempt Vehicles Under Three Years Old from Emissions Testing
- Department of Labor finds $1.3 million in fraudulent claims through tracking system sponsored by Senator Ketron
- Senator Ketron re-elected Chairman of Fiscal Review Committee
- Senator Ketron Filed Legislation to Allow Referendums on Wine Sales in Retail Food Stores
- Statement from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron regarding the Governor’s Proposal to establish a partnership with Nissan for workforce development
- Senator Ketron Announces $74,249 Grant to MTSU for Teacher Professional Development