Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Tennessee Senate Ron Ramsey brought his statewide "Red Tape" listening tour to Nashville yesterday morning. The purpose of his tour is to understand how excessive bureaucracy, costs and regulation are preventing businesses from thriving. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) co-hosted the session with the Nashville Chamber, and NFIB State Director Jim Brown set the national context: more than 4,000 federal rules are in the pipeline, 1,000 of which are serious threats to small business. How does that affect the bottom line and job creation? The NFIB estimates that complying with federal regulations costs their members $10,000 per employee. Chamber CEO Ralph Schulz told the group that champions for business, like Speaker Ramsey, need the public and vocal support of leaders in the business community in order to push improvement on these issues.
Speaker Ramsey began by acknowledging the things the state does well. A fiscally responsible administration and legislature have ensured that Tennessee has the lowest debt in the country ($735 per citizen), a public pension fund for state employees that is fully funded ($32 billion), and is one of only six states that do not owe the U.S government unemployment compensation funds. But he also related several “horror stories” of how state and local bureaucracies placed multiple hurdles in the way of businesses who were trying to prosper. Some involved excessive delays in getting approvals or work done; some involved bureaucracies imposing excessive cost on small business owners. Speaker Ramsey shared with the group that he started a website, www.tnredtape.com,
where businesspeople could post their own stories.
Chamber and NFIB members in their room offered their own examples. Someone in the trucking industry said there is an industry shortage of drivers and that he currently had five good-paying job openings, despite high unemployment. Speaker Ramsey said that he was worried that unemployment benefits were becoming a lifestyle choice for some people, and that he would push for legislation requiring that recipients pass a drug test to receive benefits. The cost of worker’s compensation also came up, and Speaker Ramsey said he supported legislation tightening up the definition of “workplace injury” and moving to a commission system, rather than trying cases in the courts.
When the lieutenant governor described his own experience as a small business owner in Upper East Tennessee and that he “avoided the planning commission like the plague,” because of its propensity to cause excessive costs and delays, several businesspeople in the group echoed that sentiment. One developer referenced proposed local legislation presently before Metro Planning Commission that would interpret state law in a way that would make 70 percent of the existing business signs in Nashville "nonconforming." Another participant talked about how specific plan (SP) zoning, or overlays, are creating an unpredictable and difficult business environment. Speaker Ramsey told the group he would like to explore legislative solutions to these issues and closed the meeting by thanking the group for sharing their ideas and perspectives.
Photo caption: Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Chamber CEO Ralph Schulz Click here
to see more photos from the meeting.