Posted on May 29, 2003
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander paid a short visit to Morristown Wednesday, meeting with government and community leaders to open lines of communication. The first-term senator, from Maryville, spoke briefly on several topics before taking questions from members of the Morristown City Council, Hamblen County Commission, and Hamblen County Board of Education. Following the introduction of some of his staff members, Alexander explained the new $550 billion tax-cut bill currently supported by the White House administration. Alexander said just some of the benefits of the bill include lowering of current tax burdens, raising the child care tax credit, increasing deductions for small businesses who create jobs, and reducing the captial gains on stock dividends up to 15 percent. "I think this is the best tax bill Congress has enacted in 20 years," Alexander said. "I believe it will contribute to a stronger economy," he continued. He also announced a one-time allotment of $426 million to the state of Tennessee to "help the state through this difficult economic period." "The state's problems have put pressure on Morristown and Hamblen County and maybe this will help relieve that pressure a little bit this year until the state can get (back on its feet)," he said. The funds will come to the state in increments over five quarters. On jobs, Alexander credited Morristown and Hamblen County for increasing the job and income base which improved the entire state. Referring to the Appalachian area as being one of the toughest to work in times past, it is now one of the best. Citing the increase of auto parts manufacturers operating in Tennessee, the eastern portion of the state has the advantage of location, and a excellent road system, while the state has a "Right to Work" law in place. The total effect brings new and permanent jobs to the area. During a question and answer period of the meeting, Alexander took a question from Hamblen County Commissioner Maudie Briggs concerning the rising cost of health insurance coverage for small business and governement employees. Alexander said there are three things going on in Congress right now which may help control the high cost of insurance. This includes legislation which will allow small businesses to pool together in order to obtain lower rates based on the number of policies; seeking reasonable control of "runaway litigation" in medical malpractice suits; and instituting a Medicare and prescription drug benefit which is more affordable. He urged the community to support the legislation which may help stem the rising cost of health care. Dr. Dale Lynch, director of Hamblen County Schools, asked about the federal view of the economic impact of early childhood programs. Alexander said that, currently, $18 billion federal dollars are spent on early childhood education. He supports Head Start, but says he also believes in more accountability in the oversight of the funds for the program, and more flexibility in the ways to use the money. With better coordination between the program, states and local agencies, comprehensive care with a stronger emphasis on reading could be achieved. Alexander said he does not support the idea to move the Head Start program to the Department of Education. He urged the local school system to investigate all avenues of federal funds for programs which target children in need, including English Language Learners (ELL), and children affected by the No Child Left Behind Act. Alexander encouraged citizens to visit him and Sen. Bill Frist in Washington during their joint Tennessee Tuesdays. Each Tuesday 8-9 a.m., the senators or their staff members will be in their office to meet with constituents and hear their concerns and comments.