I recently traveled to Nashville to attend the annual Heritage Foundation Resource Bank conference, and annual gathering of conservative policy leaders from around the country.
While at the conference, I had the opportunity to hear great speakers including Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and attend interesting panel discussions on issues including school choice, fighting poverty and homelessness, and ESG investing.
In between the conference and sightseeing, I had lunch with a friend and former colleague who had moved to Tennessee to work for one of the state’s legislative leaders.
Politically, Tennessee is a mirror opposite of California – with a 27 to 6 Republican margin in the State Senate and a 73 to 26 GOP advantage in the State House.
While at lunch, I asked my friend, “What is like to have actual power?”
He told me that this year alone, Tennessee enacted $300 million in tax cuts, reformed education so funding follows the child, and ensured that dangerous criminals will remain locked up behind bars.”
On taxes, Tennessee enacted a record $52.8 billion budget this spring (compared with Gov. Newsom’s proposed $300 billion budget) including the tax relief measure.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “millions of Tennessee vehicle owners will get a collective one-time $121 million break on their car and light truck license plates . . . (for) a savings of $23.75 per vehicle.” Other tax cuts, according to The Tennessean, include “a 30-day pause on the grocery tax, and a cut to the professional privilege tax for doctors.”
Compare that to Democratic legislative leaders squabbling with Gov. Newsom over relief from high gas prices, while blocking efforts to immediately suspend the gas tax.
On education, lawmakers enacted the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act. The law was based on recommendations from PRI’s sister think tank the Beacon Center. According to the Beacon Center president Jason Owen, “Tennessee will begin to fund students, not systems.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, the new approach would provide base funding for every public school student, with additional weighted funding for low-income students, rural students, gifted students, and students with special needs. It also provides additional funding for early literacy and career technical education, and “outcome incentives based on student achievement to empower schools to help all students reach their full potential.”
Compare that to the actions of California leaders in recent years moving to impose new restrictions on creating new and renewing existing charter schools and hinder their funding.
Finally, on crime, Tennessee lawmakers enacted Senate Bill 2248, which according to the Center Square “declares eight categories of crime that will require those convicted to serve 100% of their sentences . . . (including) attempted first-degree murder, second-degree murder, vehicular homicide with driver intoxication, aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated kidnapping, robbery and burglary and carjacking.”
Speaking about the new law, Kisha Taylor – who lost her son Antonio to gun violence in July 2010 – told Chattanooga’s NewsChannel 9, “there’s no such thing as early parole, or early release, you do the time. Why should I be able to walk in a grocery store and see the guy who murdered my son, because he only had to do part of his parole?”
As we have documented on Right by the Bay, California has undergone a radical shift in public safety policy over the last decade. Thousands of inmates serving time for serious offenses were granted early release. Californians are growing increasingly concerned about the dramatic rise in shoplifting and violence that is arguably the result of these misguided laws.
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, the new law’s main proponent, responded to this criticism.
“Well, you can’t have it both ways,” he told NewsChannel 9. “Either, you’re going to have higher crime on the streets with ore crime and more violent crime, or you can put them in jail.”
When my friend told me what was going on in Tennessee, I was ready to call a realtor and put the house on the market. I suspect that the more right-thinking Californians learn about the free-market policy revolution going on in the Volunteer State, they might be looking for a good realtor, too.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.