By Crystal Burns
With overcast skies and hours to go before another heat advisory went into effect in West Tennessee, three Tennessee legislators gave updates at an outdoor event hosted by the Greater Gibson County Chamber of Commerce in Trenton on Thursday morning.
State Representative Curtis Halford, State Senator John Stevens, and U.S. Congressman David Kustoff, all Republicans, gave brief remarks on their current legislative sessions before taking a few questions from the crowd gathered at the Downtown Pedestrian Park.
Halford touted the state legislature’s work on the budget, saying that officials have cut about $1 billion from the original draft presented in February before the novel coronavirus shut down the state in mid-March.
“We did a good budget,” he said. “It’s a smaller budget, but it’s a good budget. It’s a responsible budget. It’s a budget we can all live with.”
Halford and Stevens both praised the state’s rainy day fund, which is currently at about $1.5 billion.
“Our savings account in Tennessee is at an all-time high,” Stevens said. “Our taxes are the lowest per person in the country.”
Stevens also bragged on Tennessee’s workforce development and job growth, saying since 2015, the state has added 100,000 new job commitments and $21.5 billion in capital investments. He said 43% of that is in rural Tennessee, with 7,000 new job commitments and $1.2 billion in his six-county district.
Stevens also spoke of the $2.5 billion that Tennessee has received in CARES Act funding from the federal government. He said state legislators are currently working with the federal government to release some of the funding to be used for purposes other than issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said state officials would like to use about $1 billion of the funding to fill in some of the holes caused by cuts to the budget.
Kustoff also addressed the CARES Act, crediting Democrats and Republicans for working together to craft the relief package. He said he was pleased with the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to businesses.
“That’s a big deal, and that’s one thing we did that I think was good,” Kustoff said.
He said issuing stimulus checks to individuals and families was another plus in the government’s column, but Kustoff said Congress got the unemployment benefit part wrong. Kustoff said the $600/week benefit is more than some people make working and has caused headaches for employers trying to get their employees back on the jobsite.
Kustoff returned to Washington D.C. Monday morning, where he said Congress would start debating another stimulus package because legislators recognize there are still small businesses and individuals in need of help.
Kustoff ended his remarks by voicing his support for law enforcement and told officers at the legislative update that more people are with them than against them.
Halford represents the 79th District, which includes Gibson County and part of Carroll County, in the state House of Representatives. Stevens represents District 24, which includes Benton, Carroll, Gibson, Henry, Obion, and Weakley counties, in the state Senate.
Kustoff represents Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District, which is comprised of Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Haywood, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, Obion, Tipton, and Weakely counties as well as a large portion of Shelby County and a small portion of Benton County.