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Haslam delivers State of the State, proposes $38B budget

Monday, Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly in Nashville.

Governor Haslam spent much of his time touting his proposed gas tax increase to be used to fund road improvement projects across the state as well as his proposed decreases some state taxes.

Haslam is proposing to boost the state’s tax on fuel and diesel by 7 and 12 cents, respectively, along with cuts to the state’s franchise and excise tax, a cut to the Hall income tax on investment income and the state sales tax on food. The cuts are estimated to save taxpayers $217 million.

In addition, Governor Haslam also proposed making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers.  If the Tennessee Reconnect Act is approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

The program would basically be an expansion of the existing Tennessee Promise program, which has sent some 33,000 high school graduates to community college tuition-free in just under two years.

Haslam’s $38 billion spending proposal is roughly $1.7 billion more than the current fiscal year’s. About $18 billion of the state’s budget will come from the federal government, an increase of about $1.5 billion, according to administration figures.

The governor’s proposed budget proposes allocating $100 million to K-12 teacher raises as well as $434 million for capital projects for colleges and universities across the state.

The budget proposal would add $132 million to the state’s reserve—or Rainy Day Fund—increasing that fund to an all-time high of $800 million.

The budget also calls for additional money to hire 25 state troopers, an additional $14.9 million for TennCare to cover the higher costs of prescription drugs.

You can read a release from the governor’s office about last night’s speech, plus reactions from both Lt. Governor Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini and find a link to the complete text of the governor’s remarks below.

(Release from Governor’s Office)  In his seventh State of the State address to the General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam introduced his proposal to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers. 

If the Tennessee Reconnect Act is approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said. “At the end of the day, there is no higher potential for providing more opportunity for our citizens than increasing access to high quality education. And the point is, we’re doing it while maintaining discipline and responsibility to the taxpayer – keeping taxes and debt low and saving for when the economy ultimately slows.”

Launched in 2013, the Drive to 55 is the governor’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 post-secondary degrees or certificates to reach 55 percent, but mathematically there’s no way to reach that goal by only serving high school students. There are 900,000 adults in Tennessee that have some college but no degree.

Tennessee adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the Reconnect program, and the governor’s Tennessee Reconnect Act would add community colleges into the program. Click here for information on the Reconnect proposal.

The governor also unveiled tonight the Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, establishing a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.

The Reconnect and STRONG acts are the final two pieces of NextTennessee, Haslam’s 2017 legislative agenda aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

The governor also released his Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget proposal. The $37 billion proposal makes significant investments in teachers, K-12 schools, higher education, state employees, the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the tax cuts included in the governor’s IMPROVE Act. For a second year in a row, and the second year in Tennessee recorded history, the state budget does not take on any new debt.

Notable investments include:

  • $200 million to fund the Basic Education Program (BEP), including

        $100 million for teacher salaries and
$22 million for English Language Learners;

  • $77 million for state employee pay increases and market rate adjustments targeting high-turnover positions in state government;
  • $132 million to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to an all-time high of $800 million, well on the way to the statutory guideline of $1 billion;
  • $655 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education;
  • $135 million transferred from the General Fund to pay back the Highway Fund;
  • $78 million for higher education and the Complete College Act;
  • $15 million for career and technology education equipment;
  • $21 million to fund recommendations from the Rural Task Force;
  • $11.6 million to fund more than 700 additional slots in the Employment and Community First CHOICES program; and
  • $9.5 million combined to expand substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and supports.

Complete text of the governor’s speech, an archived video of his speech and budget documents are available at http://tn.gov/governor/topic/state-of-the-state.

Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) made the statement below following Governor Haslam’s State of the State address:
“This was an excellent talk outlining important priorities for our state: education, infrastructure and smaller, more efficient government. We are proud of Tennessee’s status as a low-tax, low debt state. Governor Haslam’s proposed budget ensures we remain one. With nearly 270 million in tax cuts, this budget matches the tax cuts already made over the last six years — the largest single-year tax cut in our history.
In Tennessee, fiscal responsibility isn’t just something deployed when revenues are low. We make conservative estimates and tough decisions when revenues are stable so we are prepared when recessions arrive and revenues decline.
This budget will continue our improvements in K-12 education, keep our roads among the best in the nation and increase access to higher education. Tennessee is providing the services that people need while giving money back to taxpayers and saving for a rainy day. We are reaping the benefits of smart planning and forward thinking. If we have the courage to stay on course, we will continue to reap those benefits for many years to come.”

Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, released the following statement following Governor Haslam’s 2017 State of the State:

Governor Haslam painted a pretty picture of the Tennessee we can be, but it’s not the whole picture. We’re also a state where hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans still do not have access to affordable health care, including almost 30,000 veterans. We’re a state where rural hospitals can’t afford to keep their doors open. We’re a state with a vibrant and productive refugee and immigrant population who are under attack. We’re a state with an unusually high number of injuries and deaths due to unsecured firearms. We’re a state where struggling teenagers can be refused mental health care. We’re a state where women are losing more and more control over their health care decisions.

We heard a lot of promises and stories about Tennessee being a wonderful place to live, and it is. But it’s also important to remember that a lot of Tennesseans are struggling and it was disappointing that Governor Haslam left them out of tonight’s speech.”

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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