TCSA 2018 Legislative Platform General Legislative Policy Statement

General Legislative Policy Statement

The Tennessee County Services Association, and its affiliates - the Association of County Mayors of Tennessee, Tennessee County Commissioners Association and Tennessee County Highway Officials Association - generally oppose legislation which has the effect of imposing additional unfunded mandates on Tennessee’s 95 county governments, or which further erodes the narrow tax base currently available to Tennessee counties.  Further, county associations will defend against intrusions into the already limited local autonomy vested in county governments. TCSA will support the legislative platforms of its affiliates when they promote the mutual missions of our affiliate associations.

Local Mandates

TCSA opposes any local unfunded mandates. Any change in law that costs county governments money that does not have a source of funding to off set that cost is considered a local unfunded mandate. Local mandates put pressure on an already stressed local property tax rate. Unfunded mandates are a leading cause of property tax increases. We also oppose the mandatory earmarking of any local revenue sources for specific purposes. This undermines the ability of county officials to make yearly budgetary decisions based on their needs and priorities as best determined by the local governing body. Just like the state opposes federal mandates, we oppose the state putting unfunded mandates on local governments.

Transportation Infrastructure

The Tennessee County Services Association, and its affiliates are greatly appreciative of the Administration and the General Assembly’s eff orts in 2017 to pass the IMPROVE Act to secure a sustainable ongoing source of funding to address the $6 billion backlog of needed transportation infrastructure projects in the State of Tennessee and preserve our critical infrastructure for future generations. TCSA opposes any efforts to repeal or delay the implementation of the IMPROVE act and related legislation. 

TCSA supports the provisions of the IMPROVE Act that grant authority for local governments to enact new local dedicated taxes for infrastructure projects, including mass transit initiatives, and will work to preserve this authority. TCSA is appreciative of the restoration of millions of dollars of revenue previously diverted from the transportation fund to the general fund, including the restoration of money diverted from the state aid program.  TCSA is extremely grateful to the General Assembly for the additional infusion of $55 million in funding for the State Aid program in FY 2017-2018. The association urges the administration and General Assembly to resist any future eff orts to divert dedicated transportation funding into other programs.

TCSA is appreciative of the High Priority Bridge Replacement Program through which the State is assuming responsibility for the repair or replacement of 526 local bridges. These desperately needed repairs will help insure the safety of Tennessee motorists and the preserve the efficiency of our transportation network. TCSA commends the Department of Transportation for its extraordinary efforts to coordinate and cooperate with local officials as it has begun implementing this program. 

Education Funding & School Employee Insurance

Understanding the critical role a quality public education system plays in the preservation of health and economic viability of our communities, TCSA supports the complete and full funding of the Basic Education Program (BEP). This includes support for continued annual inflationary growth in both state and local match portions of the BEP formula, as well as the capital outlay component of the formula.

It is hoped that the Administration and General Assembly will regard Tennessee counties as partners in offering local education opportunities to our children and would recognize that county governments continue to invest far more than statutorily required in our public education system. This commitment is evidenced by the hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted annually “above and beyond” the basic amounts deemed necessary as a local match by the BEP formula.

TCSA supports efforts to ensure quality teachers in every classroom by providing competitive salaries and benefits for Tennessee teachers. While the state funds 70 percent of instructional salaries for positions generated by the BEP formula, TCSA would point out that every school system in Tennessee hires significantly more teachers than the formula generates and pays them more than the formula recognizes.

TCSA asks the General Assembly and the Administration to be cognizant of the fact that the significant number of changes and educational reforms being implemented in Tennessee has placed tremendous stress on Local Education Agencies. These reforms are applauded for their intent to improve educational outcomes in all Tennessee classrooms and help our state maintain its ability to compete in a global economy. However, the resources to meet these efforts have not been adequately funded. Funding for technology, for positions to implement Response to Instruction and Intervention programs, for English Language Learning services and other areas where new demands are placed on school systems has been inadequate.

TCSA has concerns that an expansive pursuit of school choice options that divert state and local public school funds out of traditional classrooms without providing supplemental funding will damage the long-term fiscal well-being of the local education agency as a whole and will erode the desired gains of many of the educational reforms currently being implemented in our schools. TCSA is opposed to legislation that would divert funding from the public K-12 education system to non-public schools through vouchers or scholarships. Many have said with regard to school choice options that the funding would follow the student. However, there has not been a serious examination of whether the costs follow that student who leaves the traditional classroom and takes the associated state and local funding with them. Our concern is the state is left without further funding obligations, while locals still must meet financial obligations to address fixed costs that remain in the local education budget, despite the loss of some students.

Jails and Correctional Facilities

The housing and healthcare costs of maintaining a state prisoner population in a local jail facility remain a top priority for TCSA as its membership continues to face pressures created by providing this service to the state. Just as the state prison system is experiencing growth in the amount the state spends on it prison population each year, counties face the same predicament in local jails. One of the fastest growing populations in local jails is the backlog of convicted felons who are awaiting space within a state prison. TCSA is appreciative of the Administration and the General Assembly’s efforts to increase the per diem for housing state inmates in local jails to $39 per day. However, TCSA wants to work with the Administration and General Assembly to develop a funding mechanism that better reflects the actual cost of such services and one that is triggered at the time the individual becomes a convicted felon.

TCSA also asks the General Assembly to consider initiatives that could assist counties in managing growing costs of medical expenses, pharmaceuticals, and the mandated transportation of inmates and other individuals, including those seeking mental health evaluations. To that end, TCSA urges lawmakers to authorize new cost saving measures to help reduce the financial burden, particularly rising inmate medical costs, that counties face in dealing with the cost of housing all prisoners and we encourage the Administration and General Assembly to take all appropriate steps to better manage the state inmate population in order to alleviate the backlog of convicted felons housed in jails.

TCSA additionally supports efforts to evaluate and enact reforms to enable improved management of both juvenile and adult incarcerated populations to ensure that public safety is protected by providing adequate secure facilities for dangerous, violent offenders while striving to improve outcomes for other individuals that become involved in the criminal justice system.

Opioid Epidemic

TCSA urges the Administration and the General Assembly to take steps to enact reforms and provide resources at both the state and local level to counteract the devastating effects of opioid addiction in Tennessee. The association supports a multi-faceted, targeted approach to preserve lives, protect public safety and provide resources to assist Tennesseans struggling with this addiction. In addition to the terrible impacts on individual lives and families in our communities, this substance abuse problem is putting increased pressure on our already over-crowded county jails. Without adequate substance abuse treatment programs in place to curb this addiction, counties are concerned that we will continue to see a “revolving door” as inmates leaving our local jails are still severely addicted to these drugs and will likely re-off end and return to the criminal justice system in a short time.

State Shared Funding and Revenue Sources

TCSA asks the Administration and General Assembly to recognize that counties provide critical and fundamental government services to the citizens of Tennessee.  While counties receive some forms of state-shared taxes to assist county governments in delivering these services, these funding sources are relatively stagnant and do not keep pace with rising costs of service delivery.  As the demands on county government continue to grow, TCSA asks the General Assembly to consider enacting a new state-shared funding source for county governments that will keep pace with these rising costs.

TCSA also asks that the Administration and the General Assembly preserve the relatively limited funding sources we have in Tennessee to fund essential governmental services. Erosion of the tax base during positive economic conditions will result in even more drastic shortfalls in lean times. Steps should be taken to ensure that out of state vendors doing substantial business in this state are placed on a level playing field with those businesses located in our state. To that end, TCSA supports efforts by the Administration to pursue collection of sales tax from non-resident vendors doing substantial business in Tennessee.