Gov. Bill Lee highlights 2023 progress in state
Published 11:37 am Tuesday, January 2, 2024
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has released 2023 “Leading the Nation” highlights and accomplishments that have contributed to greater opportunity, security and freedom for all Tennesseans.
“Tennessee is leading the nation as the best state to work, live and raise a family,” said Gov. Lee. “As we continue to make strategic investments that strengthen our economy, support families and provide opportunity for Tennesseans, I am confident that our state’s best days are ahead.”
Lee’s 2023 accomplishments and budget and legislative highlights include:
Tennessee is the best state to do business, with the lowest tax burden of all 50 states and one of the fastest growing economies in the nation. This year, companies invested nearly $4 billion in the state and committed more than 13,000 new jobs for Tennesseans. In July, Tennessee reached its lowest unemployment rate in history of 3.1 percent. Lee’s budget provided more than $400 million in tax cuts for Tennessee families and businesses through the Tennessee Works Act, the single largest tax cut in state history and dedicated $250 million to Tennessee’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing totals to an historic $2.05 billion.
As Tennessee experiences tremendous growth, our state is keeping up with the pace by making strategic investments in career and technical education to prepare Tennesseans for the workforce. In 2023, Lee dedicated nearly $1 billion to complete the TCAT Master Plan to improve 16 existing Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs), replace seven outdated facilities and build six new TCATs at strategic locations across Tennessee, continuing efforts to double the skilled workforce by 2026.
This year, Lee prioritized K-12 public education by investing an additional $350 million in local education agencies through Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA), so that new recurring state funding for the education formula totaled more than $1 billion. Lee also provided the largest teacher pay raise in state history, increasing the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 by 2026, putting Tennessee on track to become a top-10 state for teacher pay in the nation. Lee also provided greater opportunity for students in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga with Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program, to give parents the ability to pick the best school for their child. Parents of students enrolled in the ESA program are reporting a satisfaction rate of greater than 90 percent.
Strategic Infrastructure Investments
As families and businesses move to Tennessee in record numbers, the state needs a transportation plan to accommodate growth, address traffic congestion and meet transportation needs across rural and urban communities. Lee’s landmark Transportation Modernization Act passed with bipartisan legislative support and invested more than $3 billion into a statewide strategy to solve current and future mobility challenges by alleviating urban congestion and funding rural road projects across the state.
Opportunity for Rural Tennessee
Tennessee’s rural counties have seen tremendous success over the last year, with nearly 50 percent of overall job commitments located in rural areas, bringing the total to more than 6,400. In June, Gov. Lee announced that the number of distressed counties in the state had reduced to eight, the fewest in Tennessee history, marking a significant milestone in the Lee administration’s mission to accelerate the transformation of rural Tennessee. This fall, Lee held the fifth annual Rural Opportunity Summit and met with state and local leaders to discuss the continued prosperity of rural Tennessee.
Law Enforcement Support
This year, Lee has made significant investments to support law enforcement and keep every Tennessee community safe, notably celebrating the groundbreaking on a Multi-Agency Law Enforcement Training Academy (MALETA) in Nashville. The campus is designed to provide greater training for local and state law enforcement, increase collaboration and information sharing across agencies, and save significant dollars in the process. Additional investments include a $50 million expansion of the Violent Crime Intervention Fund (VCIF), 100 additional Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) troopers on Tennessee roads and a renewed nationwide THP recruitment pitch to bring qualified law enforcement to the state.
Enhanced Public Safety
Gov. Lee led a comprehensive school safety proposal to enhance physical security in public and non-public schools across Tennessee. In partnership with the General Assembly, Lee signed legislation into law that invested more than $230 million to strengthen public safety by funding armed school resource officers at every public school, enhancing mental health support and boosting physical security. Additionally, Lee called a special session to address public safety, resulting in an additional $100 million in funding to improve Tennessee’s background check system, attack human trafficking, improve access for safe storage and fund greater mental health resources statewide.
Lee has worked to strengthen support for Tennessee families, mothers and children, and the latest state budget dedicated $20 million to improve access to maternal healthcare and boost critical resources by supporting local nonprofits across the state via the Tennessee Strong Families Grant Program. Lee’s budget eased the financial burden on mothers enrolled in TennCare face by becoming the first Medicaid program in the nation to cover the cost of diapers during the first two years of a baby’s life. The Lee administration continued efforts to strengthen foster care and adoption through expanding programming for children with complex or special needs and through other initiatives led by Tennessee Fosters Hope, and through public-private partnerships increased bed capacity in the DCS provider network, reducing the time children and youth spend in offices and children’s homes.
Lee has taken steps to ensure national security over the past year, authorizing the deployment of 100 Tennessee National Guard troops to secure the U.S. Southern border amid an ongoing national security crisis and surging drug crisis being fueled by an open border.
From Mountain City to Memphis, Tennessee is blessed with natural beauty and rich natural resources, which will only be around for the future if we invest in them today. The Lee administration developed a conservation strategy that balances our state’s economic growth
with a plan to protect our environment. The latest state budget allocated more than $371 million to improve and expand three additional state natural areas, build two new park lodges, complete four more outdoor trails and create four new state parks. On August 3, the administration convened the first annual Tennessee Conservation Summit, bringing together state officials, business and community leaders and conservation stakeholders from across the state to help develop strategic initiatives stewarding Tennessee’s natural heritage for generations to come.
First Lady Maria Lee’s initiative, Tennessee Serves, has seen the tremendous service and generosity of Tennesseans in the past year. Highlights include distributing coats to more than 4,000 students in the Hancock County and Cocke County school systems, a record-breaking 3,310 hours served by Tennessee children during the Tennessee Kids Serve Summer Challenge, and collecting generous food and toiletry donations from more than 4,000 visitors during Tennessee Christmas tours.