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Governor Haslam visits Johnson County

Several months ago, Governor Bill Haslam was en route to Johnson County to meet with Johnson Countians and due to unexpected weather conditions, his trip was canceled. With a promise to return, he arrived this past Friday to a courtroom full of local citizens eager to meet with Tennessee's chief executive.
Arriving with Haslam was Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, former Speaker of the House Kent Williams, and Johnson County's own state representative, Scotty Campbell. According to Campbell, this was the first time all of these state officials were gathered together in Mountain City.
“You can be proud of your leadership in Tennessee,” said Haslam as he addressed the crowd. According to the governor, Tennessee has the second lowest debt per capita in the country. “Financially, we're in good shape,” he continued. He acknowledged that while the unemployment rate of 9.1 percent is still too high, the state is heading in the right direction.
“Last year we had one of the most successful legislative sessions,” said Ramsey in his opening address, adding Tennessee was able to balance the budget with less monies than the previous year.
Although state leaders have traveled outside the area to recruit companies to consider business development in Tennessee, many of the new jobs that have recently been created were by existing companies. According to Haslam, 2011 has been an outstanding year for the development of new business in the state. He added that the government does not create jobs but creates a business-friendly environment. “Jobs are created when people create jobs,” he continued.
Williams, who acknowledged special ties to the Johnson County community, believes it is difficult to recruit industry to relocate to our area mostly because of the terrain of the area. He added the county should continue to concentrate on the continuation of agriculture and the development of tourism.
Haslam explained the state has to work within its budget. “We have money that comes in as revenue and expenses and they have to balance,” he stated, adding Tennessee is committed to not raising taxes and living within its means. The total state budget is $30 billion. Approximately one half of monies received come from the federal government allocated for areas such as education and health care. The majority of the remaining money comes from Tennessee's sales tax.
After addressing the audience, the floor was opened to a question and answer period. One of the first concerns raised was the completion of a four-lane road to Damascus. According to Ramsey, Virginia had previously agreed to bring a four-lane road down to just short of the state line. The states are currently working on a feasibility study. Haslam explained that funding for roads are received from the gas tax. While a more efficient vehicle has better gas mileage, this equates to less tax monies. Ramsey added the last gas tax increase was in 1988.
Many states have recently made changes to require that voters show picture identification at the voting booth. Governor Haslam addressed a question from the audience as to how he felt about these changes. “We're committed to get everyone to vote,” he said. According to Haslam, express lanes will be available at Tennessee's Department of Motor Vehicles that will expedite the picture identification process for those voters who do not have a driver's license. When asked what the motivation for this decision had been, Ramsey responded, “To make sure you are whom you say you are when you come to vote.”
In response to a comment regarding the need for a community college in Johnson County, Haslam acknowledged the need for higher education. He explained that the cost to run TennCare, Tennessee's Medicaid program, takes up a large portion of the state's budget. Unfortunately, this leaves less money for programs such as higher education. The funding for pre-K, kindergarten through grade 12 will not be cut. Both Ramsey and Campbell would like to see the expansion of college classes that are currently offered from Northeast State Community College in Mountain City. Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter expressed the appreciation of Johnson Countians to the governor and state representatives for their help with victims of the April tornado.
“I am very grateful to be the governor of Tennessee,” said Haslam as the meeting came to a close. “And I'm very humbled to be your county mayor,” Potter added.