I had a most enlightening sit-down with Tennessee State Representatives Matthew and Timothy Hill this week.
But, before I tell you about it, let me immediately digress. Longtime readers may know I have been critical of Matthew Hill in this space, and I stand behind everything I’ve ever written. But he and I understand we both have jobs to do, and I believe we both care for the betterment of the region. So, I appreciate the professional approach we both take in dealing with each other these days.
When Matthew and Timothy Hill sat down in my office Monday morning for an interview for The Business Journal, they were taking time from already busy schedules. Owing to their tenure and good relationships with new House Speaker Glen Casada, both Representatives Hill have new levels of responsibility and authority in the 111th General Assembly.
The biggest changes are Matthew assuming the role of deputy speaker and Timothy taking the gavel as chair of the Commerce Committee.
“I used to get around 15 calls for appointments a week,” Matthew said. “Last week I got 15 in one day.”
The 111th General Assembly will be a creature unlike any before, the Hills agreed. More than a quarter of the house members are freshmen, as green as grass. Just so, Casada is a new speaker with new ideas, which include reconstituting some committees that had been done away with in the past. It seems clear the legislative branch will be exerting more power in the relationship with the governor, who is also brand new.
Matthew said the Bill Lee administration has already told the leaders on Capitol Hill he will not be submitting a budget until March, which is much later than usual. “That may not be such a bad thing,” Matthew said, noting the new representatives will have more time to learn their new roles and responsibilities before having to buckle down to budgeting.
Figuring out the exact numbers that will be collected and distributed in Internet sales tax funds will determine whether the state’s fiscal situation improves. “If you’re in that $400 million to $500 million range, that’s around what we collect on groceries, which is the most stable source of tax revenue in this state,” Matthew said. “That has the potential to blow the roof off the place from the standpoint of revenue to the state.”
Another unknown at this point is the federal government’s distribution of block grants related to entitlements. “That will put a huge amount of responsibility on states – on the state legislature and the governor – but that’s what we’ve asked for. That’s what we’ve said we wanted.”
“Internet sales tax and the Medicare/Medicaid block grants are big X factors right now. They’re unknowns, so we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”
Once the revenue side is clearer, the spending priorities will include addressing workforce improvement, education and recidivism. But the first priority of the GOP supermajority, Matthew said, is, “to not screw anything up. Tennessee is one of the best-run states in the country.” And, in that regard, we wish him all the best.