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Following NYC meetings, TN officials take a victory lap

A group of Tennessee officials including Gov. Bill Haslam, finance commissioner Mark Emkes, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and others have wrapped up two days of meetings with the three major credit rating agencies in New York City.

Haslam characterized the discussions with representatives of Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service as positive and said Tennessee officials would learn in about a month whether the state’s bond ratings will change.

But Tennessee officials could not resist taking a preliminary victory lap following the meetings.

“I would venture to say we run state government perhaps a lot better than others run the federal government,” Emkes told reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning.

Haslam said the Tennessee contingent didn’t come away from the meetings being asked to do anything by the agencies – in other words, there was no homework, which was characterized as a good thing.

“There’s a great appreciation for, quite frankly, the structure of Tennessee’s government as it relates to financial decisions,” Haslam said.

On his Facebook page Wednesday, Ramsey said Tennessee is in an outstanding fiscal position despite his belief that “the national economy is in a tailspin.”

“Few states could even dream of making the impressive case we did these past two days,” Ramsey wrote.

An excerpt from Ramsey’s note:

“The best evidence of our strength? People are moving here. They want our quality of life, our job creating environment and our low taxes. Our population growth and in-migration statistics are well above the national average. Families and businesses from around the nation are attracted by our low regulation and our newly reform-minded education system.

Our manufacturing sector remains remarkably strong and well ahead of the nation at large. Our private sector employment is rising and our state’s unemployment, while not at the rate we would like to see, has fallen at a rate faster than the nation’s.

Not only did we boast of our low taxes and our pro-business climate, we made clear our state government’s fiscal house is in order. If this recession continues or if the federal government ends up pulling the rug out from underneath us, we will have the structure in place to withstand the hit — far better and for far longer than many other states.

For instance, Tennessee’s unemployment trust fund stands at $381 million and we are one of only six states that have no outstanding obligation to the federal government. Our fund is in position to grow and protect us against a prolonged recession.

While other states are treading water, we were able to tell the rating agency analysts that the budget we passed this past spring contains $1.1 billion less in federal funding than the previous year and restored $70.4 million to our rainy day fund. Our budget is balanced on a current and reoccurring basis. Perhaps most important is the fact that our budget passed unanimously. Even Tennessee Democrats conceded that our conservative budgeting practices are best.

Our sales tax growth rate is up almost 50% over last year and August marked the 13th consecutive month in which total tax collections surpassed our budgeted estimates. Tennessee’s economy and tax revenue maintains low volatility relative to other AAA rated states.”

Dansette

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