A new rural caucus for the Tennessee Legislature had its first meeting last week, according to the 75th District representative who organized it.
Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, announced the group’s organization and meeting on Friday in a prepared statement.
Griffey said the caucus invited both Republican and Democrat members of the state House of Representatives who were interested in issues related to rural districts. About three dozen legislators attended the introductory meeting.
“There are bipartisan issues and challenges unique to the rural districts of the state, and the general idea of the Rural Caucus is to get legislators on both sides of the aisle who represent rural districts together, discuss rural legislative issues and hopefully advance legislation beneficial to rural counties by bringing a bigger voice to the House chamber for rural districts,” Griffey said.
Griffey said economic development was particularly important to his rural district, which includes Henry, Benton and Stewart counties.
To address this issue, Griffey has researched what the state Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) has spent, as well as where the money was spent and what it was spent on.
“For the past four years, it appears ECD has spent approximately $21.5 billion to attract/promote new business development,” Griffey stated. “Of that $21.5 billion, approximately $14 billion was spent in seventeen urban counties and $7.5 billion went to sixty-seven rural counties. This needs to change ASAP, and I am already in the process of drafting legislation to sponsor and introduce next session to essentially flip the allocation of ECD dollars so more businesses are encouraged and more motivated to move to rural areas in Tennessee.
“If the representatives of the rural districts stick together, we can make it happen,” he said.
Caucus members intend to meet monthly, and will attempt a concensus on 5-10 agenda items to take into the upcoming legislative session designed specifically to help rural districts.
Other items discussed at the initial meeting included how best to get surplus tax dollars back into the hands of taxpayers, Griffey said.
“We had a $636.1 million surplus for the just completed 2018-2019 fiscal year. This means that we overtaxed Tennesseans to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We need to correct this, and one proposal I made at the meeting was to eliminate tax on food in Tennessee,” he said.
Other agenda items discussed included rural broadband, the prioritization and acceleration of road and infrastructure projects in rural counties, rural hospitals and health care options.