VOL. 129 | NO. 49 | Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Durham Dives Into Legislature During First Year
BOBBY ALLYN | Special to The Daily News
When someone first mentioned to freshman state Rep. Jeremy Durham that there would be a new seat in Williamson County, he thought he was being asked to suggest someone, not run.
But after running and winning a Williamson County district, Durham has been anything but a quiet first-year lawmaker.
He’s been one of the staunchest critics of the federal Affordable Care Act, filing a House bill seeking to prevent Tennessee from expanding Medicaid under the federal overhaul. The reason? He says the federal government will renege on its promises.
He sponsored a bill that would put limits on how local school districts can lobby the state legislature, arguing that taxpayer-supported lobbying takes money out of the classroom.
The next issue he plans to attack is the Hall tax, Tennessee’s inheritance tax on estates. He says it’s hard on retirees, and that attracting and keeping retirees in Williamson County is vital to the state’s fiscal health.
He says he ran on a platform of cutting red tape for small businesses, reducing spending and improving education. Durham, a Franklin attorney who represents employers in contract negotiations, spoke to the Nashville Ledger, sister publication of The Daily News, about his positions.
Q: Are there any drawbacks to the Republicans’ supermajority?
A: You really have to scrutinize your friends’ bills just the same as anyone else’s. In the minority, it’s probably easier to help your friends, but if we do that for every Republican, we’d pass everything. I never had the mentality that you have to help your friend’s bills along. You need to have the responsibility to vet every bill.
Q: Explain your opposition to Medicaid expansion? (It should be noted that, under the Obamacare proposal, an estimated 140,000 Tennesseans would gain coverage. The program would be paid in full by the federal government for the first three years. After that, the feds agreed to pay at least 90 percent of the cost).
A: We’ve been here before as a state, back in 2005, we had to remove 172,000 people from the Medicaid rolls. It was a very, very difficult process. I don’t think we want to put our state there again.
We’ve also seen the federal government change the matching formula on certain programs. We’re a fiscally conservative state, and we don’t want to put ourselves in a place where we might have to take people off the TennCare rolls. TennCare actually already represents about 84 percent of our annual budget growth, and that’s without expanding Medicaid. So it’s already gobbling up more and more of our revenue growth every year.
With runaway health care costs, it’s just not something we need to do at this point. It’s just one of those principles. If you believe that the government can’t afford it long term, then the government can’t afford it long term.
I wish everyone could have health care. I wish everybody could have cable TV. But if the government cannot afford it, we don’t have to put taxpayers in a bad position.
Q: Why do you think local school districts should not be able to publicly finance lobbying? (In February, Durham backed a bill proposing to limit taxpayer-funded school district lobbying. Critics said the move would muzzle the school’s voice in the face of out-of-state reform groups flooding the state with money to support their agenda.)
A: It just puts school boards in the same position as other lobbyists who receive county or municipal funding. If you’re going to use taxpayer funds for lobbying, I believe they should be in the other category, with the rest of the budget, where the county commission, if they chose to, could have that authority to approve it, like they have for every other department.
The people who are for reform have raised private funds. I don’t buy into this concept that all these municipal governments and county commissions would not still fund state lobbyists – Like in Williamson County, members of the sheriff’s association, the assessor of property and others.
The idea that this would prevent their voices from being heard is not supported by the facts. It’s not up to taxpayers that a minority, or majority, has a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. We would have unlimited lobbyists if we did that.
Q: What’s next on your legislative to-do list?
A: I have three versions of a Hall tax bill drafted. One would do away with it in three years, and one would do it five, one in seven. It’s really an unfair tax. It disproportionately affects seniors.
When you retire, sometimes you reply on interest from your investments, so while we say we don’t have an income tax, many retirees would disagree. And that’s something William County pays a large share of.
It’s very important to make your state attractive to retirees. It’s just good fiscal policy.
But revenues were down this year, so I don’t think we’ll take a serious whack at it this year.