Tennessee House of Representatives
Patsy Hazlewood has served in the House of Representatives representing District 27 since she was first sworn in January 8, 2014. In addition to chairing the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee in the 112th General Assembly, Rep. Hazlewood served on the Business and Utilities Subcommittee and Commerce Committee of the House.
Patsy Hazlewood is running for re-election to represent the district, which stretches along the Western edge of Hamilton County along State Route 27 taking in Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, Soddy Daisy, and Flat Top Mountain.
Hazlewood’s professional experience includes working as assistant vice-president for Legislative and External Affairs for BellSouth and AT&T, as director of CapitalMark Bank and Trust, and as regional director for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
As chairman of the House Finance Committee, you know the state’s financials as well as anyone else in the state. What do you think bankers need to know about the state’s budget?
Fiscal responsibility is how we do business in the Volunteer State. We pay our bills. We invest in ourselves. We plan for the future. We live within in our means. Our primary goal each year is always the same in the Tennessee General Assembly: to pass a balanced budget. We want to provide the best possible service at the greatest efficiency and at the lowest cost to taxpayers. From top to bottom, this year’s $52.5 billion, zero-debt budget will be a spending plan that addresses the priorities and needs of all Tennesseans.
We completely overhauled the school funding formula to better serve student needs, gave teachers a $124.7 million raise, invested $500 million in career technical training in middle and high schools, passed Truth in Sentencing to require violent offenders to serve their full prison sentence, fully funded our state retirement system, and invested millions into elderly and veteran services. None of this is possible without responsibly managing money. We pay the basics first and then improve what we can. Tennessee lives within our means.
Budgeting in a surplus year is often considered more difficult than in a year of economic downturn. What approach is the state taking to manage the current surplus and prepare for any potential economic downturns?
We have a lot to be proud of in Tennessee. Our state economy is healthy and booming. New businesses continue to move in and bring high-quality jobs. We continue to be recognized as a national destination for opportunity and freedom. Tennesseans enjoy the lowest state and local tax burden per capita and we do all of this without a personal state income tax. We stood strong and recovered much more quickly than most other states following an unprecedented economic downturn caused by the pandemic. We have for two years been named the most fiscally stable state in the by U.S. News and World Report, and we continue to be recognized as a national model for our measured approach to investing.
With all of this success, we also have challenges. It is tempting in good years to invest the money the state brings in for much needed and worthy causes. However, conservatively managing the budget means not over promising this year for something that cannot be completed down the road. We kept three things in mind for this year’s surplus budget: planning for a rainy day, investing one-time money into one-time projects, and responsibly returning surplus back to Tennesseans.
There are hundreds of issues that pass the legislature each year, and not all of them make the headlines. What are some of the accomplishments that you feel are most notable in your time in office that weren’t top of the headlines?
If you look at the 112th General Assembly specifically, the General Assembly passed $300 million in tax cuts, $9.7 million in pay increases for Department of Children services case managers to recruit more employees to better serve children, increased the hourly wage for direct care professionals employed at contracted agencies of the department for the home- and community-based waiver programs for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and created the Mental Health Treatment Act of 2022 for mental health court treatment programs. Government can perform useful services for the community when managed correctly. As Finance chair, that is my main focus…keeping Tennessee financially sound allows us to make the best decisions for Tennessee, and not be forced into making hard choices due to past mistakes.
Prior to politics you had an extensive business background, including serving as a founding director for CapitalMark Bank & Trust in Chattanooga.
What surprised you about that behind the scenes view of running a bank, and how did that experience prepare you for your current role as chair of the Finance Committee?
I had worked in a regulated industry for many years and knew going in that the banking industry was a highly regulated one. But, partially because of the timing of our start-up as related to the recession and bank failures across the country, that regulation became even more intense than I had expected. The amount of time and resources necessary to meet compliance requirements was an eye-opener, as was the depth of the scrutiny of loan transactions.
Prior to my banking experience, the budgets I had dealt with were primarily segments of a whole. As a board member of the bank, I was engaged in looking at an overall budget, with more focus on how those parts came together to make the whole and the adjustments that were necessary to make the overall budget work. That has served me well in looking at the state budget, first by department, but then tying all the pieces together for the budget in its entirety. The prioritization necessary in budgeting for a bank, particularly a start-up, where resources are constrained, was good practice for prioritizing in a budget funded with taxpayer dollars where not all good ideas can be implemented. In addition, as our bank grew, the budget numbers grew as well. That was also good experience for working with a state budget that has a formidable number of zeros in each segment!