TCSA 2020 Legislative Platform
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.
TCSA opposes any local unfunded mandates. Any change in law that costs county governments money that does not have a source of funding to offset 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.
Erosion of Property Tax Base
As property taxes are an absolutely critical source of revenue for county governments, TCSA urges the General Assembly, administration and various state departments and boards involved in the administration and oversight of property taxation to preserve a system of laws and rules which do not disadvantage residential and farm property owners with respect to other properties. Large commercial and industrial taxpayers have the resources and ability to pursue remedies and legislative changes that result in a reduction of their property tax liability. When enacted, these changes that benefit large individual corporate taxpayers shift more of the tax burden for funding essential government services to the typical residential and farm property taxpayer who cannot afford to pursue these remedies for themselves.
The Tennessee County Services Association, and its affiliates are greatly appreciative of the Haslam Administration and the General Assembly’s efforts 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 efforts 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 would ask that the state close the gap on the unit cost for instructional salaries used in the formula to more closely reflect actual salaries paid to teachers in Tennessee.
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 have not always been accompanied by the resources to pay for these efforts. TCSA appreciates the addition of a funding component to the BEP for Response to Instruction and Intervention programs and would ask that the state provide additional funding whenever educational reform efforts add new costs or programs to the local school system.
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.
TCSA is appreciate of the recent statewide assessment of public school facilities and funding provided to address shortcomings in school security. TCSA would encourage the General Assembly and Administration to take a comprehensive look at measures needed to ensure the safety and security of children in the K-12 school system. While improvements and renovations of buildings may be needed, we ask that other measures, such as enhanced funding for behavioral health services in schools, SROs and other security personnel be considered as well.
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. TCSA wants to work with the Administration and General Assembly to develop a funding mechanism that better reflects the actual cost of such services.
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 sent for 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.
One of the fastest growing populations in local jails is made up of individuals kept in custody pre-trial. TCSA asks the General Assembly, working in conjunction with the Judiciary, to look at reforms to the systems currently utilized to determine whether an individual is held in custody pre-trial. Specifically, TCSA would ask that the General Assembly consider reforms that would encourage the use of evidence-based risk assessments instead of systems predominantly dependent upon the inmate’s financial resources. TCSA supports efforts to 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. This includes programs to identify and divert individuals who would be better served through mental health services, programs to address addiction and substance abuse, and re-entry programs designed to reduce recidivism and lower crime rates, saving taxpayer dollars and making our communities safer.
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-offend and return to the criminal justice system in a short time.
As litigation and negotiations involving pharmaceutical companies and distributors continue in both state and federal courts, TCSA would strongly urge the General Assembly, the Administration and the Attorney General to prioritize funding for programs at the county government level as a part of any settlement or distribution of judgment proceeds related to the opioid epidemic and to preserve the ability of counties to pursue remedies for their community.
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. Whenever the state experiences a windfall in revenue.
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.