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VOL. 36 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 30, 2012




Food tax cut, jail funding added to Haslam budget

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday that his budget amendment includes funding for a more rapid decrease in food tax cut and extra money for local jails.

Haslam also announced that weekend negotiations resulted in an agreement from the Tennessee State Employees Association to support the governor's plan to overhaul state civil service rules.

"For us this was significant because we think it is the most critical thing we can do as a state," Haslam said. "And TSEA were probably the folks who maybe had the most questions about it to begin with."

While Haslam's bill would still eliminate laid-off state workers' rights to bump more junior colleagues, the measure would still take seniority into consideration in staffing decisions. It will also give state employee organizations a role in devising a new evaluation system.

Haslam said his budget amendment reflected only a small percentage of funding proposals sub mitted to him.

"We had about $28 to $30 million to play with, and we had $600 million in requests," he said. "So for every one 'yes,' we had 30 'nos.'"

Haslam's original plan was to trim the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5 percent over three years. He announced Monday that the timetable for that cut has been reduced to two years. The governor acknowledged that part of the reasoning for the $3.3 million move was that registers in supermarkets are set up to adjust taxes by a quarter percentage point, making the more gradual reduction more difficult to accomplish.

"And, quite frankly, we just felt if we were going to move it, we might as well go ahead and do more now rather than later," he said.

Increasing the state's daily payment to local jails by $2 a day is designed in part to help break an impasse over Haslam's proposal to require incarceration for repeat domestic violence convictions.

"They had concerns in the domestic violence bill th at they had been taking on some additional costs," Haslam said. "And second, that number hadn't been moved in a long time."

The $4 million jails reimbursement provision is the most expensive item in Haslam's budget plan.

The governor said his administration has submitted its final budget plan far earlier than usual to accommodate legislative leaders' hopes to wrap up the session this month. Haslam said improving economic indicators were no reason to wait for the next set of revenue figures before making spending decisions.

"If revenue numbers do end up being better, that money's not going anywhere," he said. "And we can use that as a part of a thoughtful approach to next year's budget so we can do things other than say let's just restore what we did in the past."

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