Commissioner raises the wrong plan at the wrong time

The unemployment rate is over 10 percent here in Memphis, meaning more than 63,000 people are out looking for jobs and not finding them.
 Sen. Reginald Tate

The unemployment rate is over 10 percent here in Memphis, meaning more than 63,000 people are out looking for jobs and not finding them. Just this week, Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense company, announced it was closing its Memphis office at the end of the month and cutting another 33 jobs. While the national unemployment rate is decreasing, Tennessee’s rate remains stagnant – yet our days at the Capitol are filled hearing bills that deal with anything but jobs.

So imagine my disappointment to hear Governor Bill Haslam had given an average of an 11 percent raise to his top commissioners, all of whom already made six-figure incomes. The raises amounted to nearly $250,000 in taxpayer funds at a time when the governor’s state budget proposal calls for cutting 1,200 state jobs. It doesn’t add up.

The biggest raise was reserved for former Shelby County Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons, who received a 32 percent pay increase over his predecessor. Gibbons, who is now the state Safety Commissioner, will make $178,000 this year.

For months we have heard lawmakers at the Capitol talk about how government doesn’t create jobs. The majority party has insisted that issues such as tort reform – capping damages on lawsuits that often involve terrible injuries and deaths – will produce jobs in the state. I don’t think you will find many small businesses that are just waiting for tort reform to start hiring workers.

Government can and should play a role in creating jobs in our area and across the state. One of our biggest recent jobs announcements came when City Brewing announced it was buying Hardy Bottling and creating 500 jobs at an average salary of $42,000. The deal involved tax incentives that were discussed and agreed upon by both the business and local officials. After the deal, Mayor A C Wharton said this:

“I think government is serving its citizens best not when they deliver a grant, or some piece of aid, but when they deliver a job and all the dignity that comes with that job.”

Right now, 300,000 Tennesseans are searching for that dignity. Instead, they’re finding a state government that is more willing to give raises to wealthy commissioners than it is to help create jobs. We should be investing in job creation across the state. We should be helping Tennesseans get back on their feet. These raises are the wrong plan at the worst possible time. We should expect better.

(Senator Reginald Tate represents portions of Memphis and Shelby County. Contact him at sen.reginald.tate@ or (615) 741-2509 or 320 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0033.)

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