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Ask your lawmaker to support IMPROVE Act, reduce taxes

Reducing taxes for Tennesseans while continuing to provide a dedicated stream of transportation funding are on the table as the IMPROVE Act – redubbed the 2017 Tax Cut Act – heads for key votes at the Tennessee Legislature.

The Knoxville Chamber and business organizations across the state are urging members to contact their lawmakers and ask them to vote “yes” on the bill.

The bill has cleared several committees where Knox County Sens. Richard Briggs and Becky Duncan Massey have voted for it, as has Reps. Eddie Smith and Bill Dunn. Tell them thank you, and urge them and others to continue to vote “yes.”

To find your representatives and how to contact them visit: http://www.knoxvillechamber.com/speakup4biz.

While Rep. Jason Zachary has previously voiced his opposition, he released a survey of constituents on Friday, April 7, that reported 63 percent “support a pocket-book neutral increase to the gas tax” while just 25 percent oppose.

The IMPROVE Act fits that bill.

The legislation reduces the sales tax rate on grocery food from 5 percent to 4 percent; reduces by 1 percent the Hall Income Tax; and simplifies the franchise and excise taxes paid by manufacturers. The gas tax would be phased in over three years before topping at 6 cents for gasoline and 10 cents for diesel. Other revenue increases are primarily aimed at alternative fuel vehicles.

The average Tennessee family with two cars would ultimately see a $1.35 month decrease in taxes, according to legislative testimony, with even greater savings during the first two years of the plan.

Efforts in the House to make up for shortfall in transportation funding  by diverting a portion of sales tax funding to transportation have been opposed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, the Senate, and business organizations. Such a move would make transportation funding – where projects are planned in five to 20-year periods – unpredictable and put such funding in competition with dollars for education, social services, and other state needs.

Diverting sales tax to transportation funding would also mean out-of-state motorists and truckers would pay a smaller proportion toward road building and maintenance than they do currently.

The bill is scheduled for House and Senate Finance Committees this week, paving the way for votes by all lawmakers.

TN Senators Seek to Aid Knoxville Residents Facing Loss of Health Insurance

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have introduced legislation that seeks to provide relief for individuals who are eligible for Affordable Care Act subsidies but have zero options for health insurance on the exchanges for the 2018 plan year.

The legislation – which would impact 34,000 Knoxville area residents – would allow them to use the subsidy provided under the ACA to buy any state-improved insurance and to waive the penalty if they don’t buy insurance.

The senators’ announcement comes after Humana, the only insurer offering plans in the 16-county Knoxville area via the federal exchange, announced plans to quit in 2018, leaving the 16-county Knoxville metropolitan area no other options. United Healthcare and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee earlier quit offering exchange plans in the state’s three largest metro areas citing financial losses. The Tennessee Farm Bureau offers off-exchange plans, but residents cannot use subsidies to pay for premiums, pricing them out of reach for many. It also follows the failure of the House of Representatives to approve a House leadership- and White House-approved plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

 “There is also a real prospect that all 230,000 Tennesseans who buy insurance on the exchange—approximately 195,000 with a subsidy—won’t have any plans to buy next year either, and millions of Americans in other states are facing the same dire circumstances,” Alexander stated in announcing the legislation, “The Health Care Options Act of 2017.”

Corker stated, “At some point, on behalf of the American people, Congress and the administration have to resolve the issues that are driving up health care costs, limiting choices, and causing the exchange market to spiral downward.”

 “However, in the interim, we must take steps to ensure people in places like Knoxville, where more than 34,000 individuals receiving subsidies under current law will have zero options in 2018, have the opportunity to purchase health insurance off the exchange in the individual market,” the senator added.

 The legislation’s temporary authority would only be in place through the end of the 2019 plan year.

Several states that refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA are now reconsidering their actions as insurers pull their plans from the exchanges. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican supermajority that control the state Legislation have indicated no intentions of following the same course.

IMPROVE Act Phases in Fees, Reduces Other Taxes

Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act cleared a hurdle after a key Senate committee voted to pass a revised version – which the governor and legislative sponsors approved - that will reduce and phase in proposed fuel tax increases while cutting other taxes and providing property tax relief to elderly and disabled veterans.


The bill lowered the requested increase to 6 cents on gasoline, phased in over three years beginning at 4 cents, and to 10 cents on diesel fuel, also beginning at 4 cents and phased in over three years.


Sens. Becky Duncan Massey and Richard Briggs both voted in favor of the bill, which the Knoxville Chamber and numerous business coalitions have endorsed as the only sustainable, fair, and fiscally conservative means to fund the state’s transportation needs.


The bill’s next stop in the Senate is the State and Local Government Committee. The bill is pending in the House Transportation Committee.


According to the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee, the bill that passed the Senate Transportation Committee amended the governor’s original proposal by removing the indexing component which could have triggered automatic increases, and the rental car surcharge. Tax cuts would occur immediately, including decreasing the Hall income tax from 5 percent to 4 percent and the grocery sales tax from 4.5 percent to 4 percent. 


The bill also keeps all 962 projects from the governor’s proposal.


While not perfect, the Knoxville Chamber and other business organizations believe the IMPROVE Act provides the most sustainable and fiscally conservative means to maintain a transportation system that will allow Tennessee’s economy to continue to thrive. The bill assesses fees on those who use roads and bridges most, particularly trucking companies who also support the measure, and captures taxes from those who are passing through the state.


In addition to Sens. Briggs and Massey’s vote of approval, Reps. Bill Dunn and Eddie Smith have also been vocal advocates of not robbing the state’s general fund, which funds education, health, and other state programs, to fund transportation needs.

Please let your legislator know that you support the IMPROVE Act. You can find your legislator and their contact information, here: http://www.knoxvillechamber.com/speakup4biz

City Names Chamber Rep to Advisory Panel

Mayor Madeline Rogero has appointed, and City Council has approved, a 20-person Stakeholder Advisory Committee to provide input on rewriting the city’s zoning ordinance.

Amy Nolan, vice president of public policy at the Knoxville Chamber, will serve on the advisory committee.

Other committee members include: Rick Blackburn, Knox Heritage; Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department; Terrence Carter, Knoxville Area Urban League; Dr. Caroline Cooley, Bike-Walk Knoxville; Mary English, League of Women Voters; Chris Folden, Home Builders Association of Greater Knoxville; Duane Grieve, Knoxville Vice Mayor; Brian Hann, Appalachian Mountain Biking Club; Don Horton, U.S. Green Building Council, East Tennessee chapter; Dave Irwin, University of Tennessee Facilities Services; Amy Midis, Neighborhood Advisory Council; Joy O’Shell, Knoxville Entrepreneurs Center; Joe Petre, Conversion Properties; Patrick Phillips, Metropolitan Planning Commission; Jennifer Roche, Knoxville Association of Realtors; John Sanders, AIA East Tennessee chapter; Jim Staley, CCIM East Tennessee Chapter; Stephanie Welch, Great Schools Partnership; and Brenna Wright, Abbey Fields Farm.

The city has hired Chicago-based consulting firm, Camiros Ltd., to oversee what’s expected to be a two-year process for $280,000. The city adopted its zoning ordinance in the 1960s.

To receive updates about the process, please contact Amy Nolan at anolan@knoxvillechamber.com.

Chamber Members Travel to Nashville for 'Big 4' Legislative Reception

About 30 local chamber members traveled to Nashville on January 11 to present the Big 4 agenda at a well-attended reception – billed as “Tennessee on Tap: Chambers Crafting Prosperity” – at the Hermitage Hotel.
Gov. Bill Haslam joined the Chamber CEOs at the podium, from where he gave Knoxville Chamber members specifically a shout-out for making the trip and praised business leaders for their willingness to be engaged in state government.
This legislative session will mark the first in which the Tennessee Senate will be led by a Knoxville area lawmaker. Sen. Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican whose district includes part of Knox County, was unanimously elected Lieutenant Governor by his colleagues.
McNally’s achievement was celebrated at the Regional Legislative Breakfast hosted by the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce on January 27. To register, click here.
From left, Knoxville City Councilman George Wallace shares a laugh with Gov. Bill Haslam and Dr. Jerry Askew, vice president at Tennova Healthcare, at the Tennessee on Tap: Chambers Crafting Prosperity reception held in Nashville.

Legislative Agenda OK'd; Regional Event Scheduled for Jan. 27

The Knoxville Chamber’s Board of Directors, at the recommendation of its Government Relations & Public Policy Committee, has approved its state legislative priorities for 2017 as the Tennessee General Assembly prepares to begin work in Nashville.

The Chamber’s State Legislative Agenda is the business membership organization’s statement of principles regarding topics sure to be receiving legislators’ attention including education, health care, transportation funding, economic development, and taxation. Click here to read the Chamber's 2017 agenda.

In addition, the Knoxville Chamber works with its counterparts in Tennessee’s largest cities – Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga – to develop a Big 4 Legislative Agenda. These shared priorities can be viewed here.

This legislative session will make the first in which the Senate will be presided by an East Tennessean.

Sen. Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge resident whose district includes parts of Knoxville, will be honored at the Regional Legislative Breakfast in January. The annual event is hosted this year by the Oak Ridge Chamber, in partnership with the Knoxville and Blount County Chambers of Commerce, and lawmakers from all three counties are invited.

The breakfast will begin at 7:30 a.m.  Friday, January 27, at the Calhoun’s-Oak Ridge, 100 Melton Lake Peninsula in Oak Ridge. (Former site of Riverside Grille). Click here to register for the event.


Judge Blocks Overtime Regulation

A Texas judge – at the behest of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others – has granted a preliminary injunction blocking the Department of Labor’s new overtime regulation nationwide.

“We are very pleased that the court agreed with our arguments that the Obama administration’s new overtime rule was unlawful and stopped the rule from taking effect on December 1,” said Randy Johnson, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

“If the overtime rule had taken effect, it would have resulted in significant new costs – more than $1 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office – and it would have caused many disruptions in how work gets done,” Johnson added. “Furthermore, the rule would have reduced workplace flexibility, remote electronic access to work, and opportunities for career advancement. This is a great result.”

While the injunction is only a temporary measure that suspends the regulation until the judge can issue a ruling on the merits, many said the judge’s language indicated he was likely to strike down the regulation, the New York Times reported.

The Labor Department rule more than doubles the salary threshold – to $47,476 – under which employees qualify for overtime pay, regardless of their job duties.

The U.S. Chamber, leading a broad coalition or pro-business groups, filed a legal challenge to the rule in September. Oral arguments on the lawsuit were held Nov. 16 in Plano, Texas.

The Knoxville Chamber is a member of the U.S. Chamber, the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.



Check out this video to see why local and state elected officials enjoy the chance to mix and mingle with the Knoxville business community every summer at the Chamber's Peelin', Eatin', and Politickin' Shrimp Boil! 

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