“I have dedicated my life to teaching and public service because education is one of the best ways to help people help themselves. Being a public servant who is dedicated to ensuring we continue to have good quality local schools brings my experience full circle.”
Charlie Baum is an Economics Professor at MTSU and also serves as a Republican in the Tennessee State House of Representatives. He has developed a reputation for being a conservative who works to keep taxes low, eliminate wasteful spending, and reduce excessive government regulation.
Some of Charlie’s top priorities are increasing access to health care, lowering health care prices, and improving health care quality. He also is also working to support teachers, maintain high academic standards, and promote school choice.
Economics and the Budget
As recently as February 2020, Charlie and members of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee had planned to make historic investments in public education, treatment for mental health, rural broadband access, substance abuse programs, and literacy initiatives in Tennessee. Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 on our state’s economy and revenue required reductions in the size of the state budget.
Over the next couple of months, Charlie worked with colleagues on the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee to cut approximately $1.5 billion in expenditures. Although this was difficult, he worked successfully to:
- Fully fund K-12 education through our Basic Education Program (BEP) funding formula (no cuts) with an additional $50 million for growth,
- Prevent any layoffs or furloughs of state employees, including teachers (with no salary cuts), and
- Provide local governments with additional state resources to help them fill their own budget gaps (including $3.7 million for Rutherford County, $800,000 for LaVergne, $1.1 million for Smyrna, and $3.1 million for Murfreesboro) with
- No state tax increases (and elimination of the Hall income tax).
During the 2019-20 fiscal year—when economic times were better—Charlie and his colleagues added $240 million to our general fund’s rainy-day account. This account will have a balance of approximately $1.45 billion to meet unexpected needs that might arise over the course of the next fiscal year.
Perhaps as a result, U.S. News and World Report magazine now ranks Tennessee #1 in fiscal stability among all 50 U.S. states (up from fifth place in 2018).
In 2020, Charlie co-sponsored several bills to increase access to health care, lower costs, and improve quality:
- House Bill 1699 (The Telehealth Bill): provides for the electronic delivery of health care with equal-reimbursement coverage under insurance policies, to increase access,
- House Bill 2350 (The CARE Plan): removes barriers blocking health care providers from entering the market, to increase competition and lower prices, by relaxing “certificate of need” government regulations and exempting certain facilities and services from this certification process, and
- House Bill 2680 (Surprise Medical-Billing): prevents surprise medical-billing for patients who do not realize they have been referred to receive out-of-network care, increasing pricing transparency.
Charlie supported successful efforts to allocate $27 million to fund the Katie Beckett waiver, helping 3,680 families with children with the most significant disabilities and highest medical needs, regardless of parental income levels.
In 2019, Charlie worked to increase funding for education by a historic amount—by $210 million—to $11.3 billion. This included $6.6 billion in K-12 funding from the state. Of this, $71 million funded 2.5 percent teacher salary increases. The 2019-20 budget also invested $40 million to secure our schools with SROs and $25 million to expand vocational and technical training opportunities for our future leaders.
Although the 2020-21 fiscal budget was adversely impacted by COVID-19, Charlie was part of efforts to fully fund K-12 education through the state’s BEP funding formula. No teachers were laid-off or furloughed. No salaries were cut.
To help more senior citizens vote—and vote safely—amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Charlie introduced (and the House passed) House Bill 2467 to make voting easier for all residents of residential health care facilities. To make voting more accessible for those living in nursing homes, election offices often bring voting machines to the residents of those facilities. However, according to Tennessee law, residents in assisted-living units are legally eligible to vote on-site, but seniors in independent-living units of the facility are not. This bill would allow all residents of a licensed nursing home, an assisted-living facility, or an independent-living facility on the same property as an assisted-living facility to vote on premises.
Charlie was honored to carry House Bill 1138 in 2019. This legislation eliminated the amusement tax on small gyms, fitness centers, and similar entities across Tennessee. It leveled the playing field for these facilities so they can compete against their larger “big box” counterparts, which obtained an exemption from the amusement tax in 1986. Tennessee has ranked in the bottom five states for obesity and fitness. This initiative is designed to promote a healthier workforce, reduce obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, and improve the overall quality of life for the citizens of this state.
Recidivism and Criminal Justice
In 2019, Charlie sponsored House Bill 1303 to help reduce recidivism by increasing educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals. This legislation incorporates eligible prisoners into Tennessee’s Drive to 55 Program. The bill requires the Department of Correction, in partnership with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Board of Regents, to develop a plan to equip at least 10 percent of eligible incarcerated individuals with a post-secondary degree, certificate, or diploma by 2025. Reports indicate that 95 percent of incarcerated individuals in state correctional facilities will eventually be released. Charlie is focused on reforming the criminal justice system to better prepare these individuals for successful re-entry. Helping these individuals access higher education is an important part of that goal.
Charlie is pleased to report that several road projects in Rutherford County for which he worked to secure state funding are underway. This includes the widening of W. Jefferson Pike from SR 102 to I-840, the widening of New Salem Highway from I-24 to I-840, and improvements for several interchanges along I-24.
One of Charlie’s appropriation amendments provided $75,000 in state funding for the new Smyrna playground designed with handicap-inclusive equipment that can be used by all children, regardless of ability. This is the first such park in the Town of Smyrna.
In 2020, Rutherford County received a $1.3 million state grant to increase broadband access in the Eagleville community. Charlie will continue fighting to secure funding for broadband in other underserved parts of the county.