Phil Roe was the man of the hour on Saturday morning.
Roe, retiring as U.S. Representative of Tennessee’s first district this year, was given a send-off at the 22nd Annual Hawkins County Legislative Breakfast held at the Charles Fuller Training Room of the Hawkins County Bus Shop.
He began his remarks by saying the current economy is the best that he has seen in his life.
“I have never seen an economy like this where if you want a job, you can get a job,” he said. “The hardest part we have now is when you see some guy standing around with a sign saying he will ‘work for food,’ there is a job for you. If you will get up in the morning and go to work, I promise you, for the first time in my life, the unemployment rate has been where it is.”
“We have the lowest ever unemployment for blacks, women, veterans and Hispanics,” Roe said.
Tennessee has been the envy of the country, with free community college and technical school education, Roe said.
“If you want to get a job, there is no economic barriers keeping you from doing that. We’re not a rich state, but we’re competing against other states and winning big time,” Roe said.
Roe said that when Donald Trump was elected president, he took a ‘hand grenade’ to Washington, D.C.
Roe also said Republicans have on their agenda in Congress tax reform, regulatory reform, veteran’s affairs reform and healthcare reform all teed up and ready to go.
“Seventy percent of our economy is driven by personal consumption,” Roe said. “When you have more people working and making money, the more they consume. That creates more jobs. That’s why the U.S. is doing so well and we’re the envy of the world.”
Roe is also seeking to eliminate surprise medical bills.
“You go to the hospital and your insurance covers it, then you find out that the pathologist, radiologist or anesthesiologist is not on your plan,” he said. “Therefore, you get a surprise medical bill. The bill I’m sponsoring takes the patient completely out of it. You go to the hospital with insurance, your bill is going to get covered once you pay your out of pocket and co-pay.”
As he closed his speech, Roe thanked those in attendance for supporting him for his 12 years in Congress.
“I thought about it for a while and it was time to come home and spend time in the third tee box behind my house,” he said. “Service is something I’ve done my whole life and I could not have served had it not been for the people and support you all have given me. I cannot thank you enough.”
Before Roe came to the platform, State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said he will miss Roe.
“We’re going to miss Congressman Roe, I’ll tell you that. When you call Phil Roe, he’ll call you back,” Niceley said. “They all won’t call you back. (Sen.) Marsha Blackburn calls me back and Congressman Tim Burchett calls me back. Some of the rest of them, we’re down on their list.”
Niceley went on to discuss the rural initiative on broadband services, a $25 million project.
“Once you get fiber optics, you don’t need anything else,” Niceley said. “We got a little grant in Jefferson County, too. I told them that I’ve got a woodburning computer. I’m looking forward to the fiber optics.”
He also discussed a tax on cigarettes that is helping farmers.
“When you invest money in farms, it stays here,” Niceley said. “Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in the state.”
Nicely recalled when the Republicans took over the State Senate in 2012, they took a big chance by abolishing the gift tax and the inheritance tax.
Three years later, the Hall Income Tax was also abolished, the state sales tax on food was slashed by 30 percent and state coffers grew to where there are more than 30 days of funds in the rainy day fund.
“We didn’t know whether it would work or not, but it did,” Niceley said. “We’ve had surpluses after surpluses and I’m not smart enough to explain it simply enough to my liberal friends to understand it. How do you cut taxes and end up with more money? But it works, it’s all back through history.”
State Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, also had some remarks for Roe.
“It’s been an honor to serve with you,” Hicks said. “Thank you for everything that you do. We’re looking forward to having you a good send-off.
Hicks also focused on the good things that are happening in Nashville.
“Last year we did so many great things, and we didn’t get to talk about those things because of some other issues that took place,” he said. “One of the things we’re going to try to do as we get out and about is to talk about the positive things that are going on in Nashville.”
There were some 1,500 bills introduced in this session of the state house, according to Hicks.
“It amazes me that 1,500 bills have been filed,” Hicks said. “The state has been in existence 200 years and we filed 1,500 bills. It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around that.”
Bills will be assigned to committees and are back scheduled to be considered during the session. Hicks looks for this session to end the week after Easter.
Hicks also talked about changing the narrative for economic growth in Tennessee.
“Once upon a time, no one was looking at us financially and on the educational realm,” Hicks said. “Now folks are paying attention to what we’re doing in Tennessee.
Hicks said that in 2019, Tennessee was the number one best fiscally managed state in the United States. The state has an AAA bond rating, as well as the lowest debt rate per capita and the state is the best business climate in the country.
“We’re No. 1 in the country for advanced industry job growth and small business growth,” Hicks said. “In the past year, the state has garnered 108 project commitments that created 16,500 jobs with $3.6 billion in capital investment.”
There is still more work to do, however, according to Hicks.
“I’m proud that half of those projects happened in rural communities,” Hicks said. “We are truly the envy of many other states.”
Mitsubishi, FedEx Logistics, Amazon and dozens of other companies made expansions or relocations into Tennessee in 2019.
Hicks also talked about the 2021 budget, which is $40.8 billion.
This is the 11th consecutive year of revenue growth since 2008, according to Hicks.
“Governor Bill Lee asked each state department to come back with one percent in reductions in their budgets. The departments were able to cut 1.7 percent from their budgets,” Hicks said.