» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
Home
The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition
X
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 36 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 27, 2012




Haslam presents $31.08B budget plan to lawmakers

Print | Front Page | Email this story

NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday presented a more than $30 billion spending proposal that calls for raises for state employees, more spending on construction on college campuses and tax cuts on food and estates.

Haslam in his State of the State address cited the state's low taxes and low debt levels in helping spur economic recovery, and also noted that Tennessee is recognized as a national leader in education reform.

But the second-year governor stressed that the state still needs to make further strides.

"Is the current state of our state good enough? I think the answer is no," he said in his 37-minute speech. "I think we can believe in better."

The governor's spending plan relies on rebounding revenues to avoid more drastic cuts the state would have faced otherwise. But Haslam is still calling for eliminating nearly 1,200 state jobs, with about half of those being currently filled positions.

Those cuts would leave the state just shy of 44,000 employees — or about 6,000 fewer than in 2008. Haslam said the move is part of his goal of creating a "lean and efficient work force."

Most of the job cuts would come from closing the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute and the Taft Youth Development Center in Pikeville.

Meanwhile, the governor also is calling for an across-the-board raise for state employees for the second straight year, though he repeated his call for allowing targeted pay increases for high-performing workers as part of his plan for eliminating most civil service protections for state workers.

Haslam said the current employment rules keep the state from being flexible enough.

"We are like a college football team that can't recruit," he said.

Robert O'Connell, executive director of Tennessee State Employees Association, said his organization has concerns about giving a governor unlimited control over the work force.

"We don't like the door that gets open to political patronage and cronyism," he said. "We don't think that's what the governor's trying to do, but we do think that could be a result."

State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said the governor's focus on civil service rules is misplaced.

"It's all focusing on the wrong thing. That system ain't broke," he said. "What he needs to be focusing on is creating jobs."

Haslam is also proposing a $335 million increase in construction and building maintenance spending at the state's colleges and universities, including the often-delayed science building at Middle Tennessee State University.

The governor urged the state higher education officials to keep tuition increases at a minimum to encourage more students to earn degrees.

Haslam budget proposal also included funding for his previously announced priorities for the current legislative session, such as:

— Reducing the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent.

— Increasing the exemption for the inheritance tax from $1 million to $1.25 million.

— Mandatory jail time for people convicted of repeat domestic violence crimes.

— Enhanced penalties for gang and gun crimes.

— Fighting methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse.

The plan also calls for placing $50 million into the state's rainy day fund, to bring those cash reserves to more than $350 million.

The governor alluded to emotional fights last year over teachers tenure rules and collective bargaining rights, but urged both sides to put ill feelings behind them in an effort to improve educational standards.

"Accusations have gone back and forth and fingers have been pointed about who really cares about students and who really cares about teachers," Haslam said. "Tonight, I ask all of us to set those distractions aside."

Jerry Winters, lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, noted that the governor did not delve into detail about his proposal to lift average class size limits or to give merit pay to teachers.

Winters suggested that the governor's silence on the matter suggests "his advisers probably think that would get a pretty cool reception among parents out there across the state."

Haslam summed up his speech by pledging to remain dedicated to keeping costs down in state government.

"I promise to be relentless when it comes to providing the very best service to our taxpayers for the very lowest price," he said. "They deserve it."

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
Sign-Up For Our FREE email edition
Get the news first with our free weekly email
Name
Email  
TNLedger.com Knoxville Editon
RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 0 0
MORTGAGES 0 0 0
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
BANKRUPTCIES 0 0 0
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 0 0
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0