The State of our State
Monday evening I had a wonderful opportunity to sit in the Joint Session and hear Governor Haslam share his vision for our state in his State of the State Address to the General Assembly. The budget provides funding for the governor’s legislative proposals announced earlier in the year that include tougher sentences for certain gang-related crimes and gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions along with mandatory incarceration for repeat domestic violence offenders. The proposals also call for raising the exemption level on the estate tax in Tennessee from $1 million to $1.25 million to lower the tax burden on family farmers and family business owners; and lowering the state portion of the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent with the goal of reducing it to 5 percent during the next three years.
Here are some of the highlights from the budget:
- Restores more than $100 million of the $160 million “core services” funding that was designated two years ago to be cut, such as the Coordinated School Health program; extended teacher contracts; alcohol and abuse treatment programs; juvenile justice grants; diabetes prevention; and matching dollars for state employee 401k programs.
- Full funding for the Basic Education Program.
- $264 million is proposed to fund long-deferred capital outlay projects in higher education including a new science building at Middle Tennessee State University; a science lab at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; a new patient diagnostic center at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis; plus planning money for new buildings at Nashville State Community College, Northeast State Community College, the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
- A 2.5 percent pay increase for state employees.
- Adds $50 million to the Rainy Day Fund, bringing it up to $356 million.
Great news was released this week by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on the job front in Tennessee. The Department’s 2011 Annual Report showed 28,535 new jobs were created in Tennessee last year, accounting for more than $4 billion in investment. This is the state’s highest mark in job creation in the last five years.
Tennessee is in a lot better shape financially then many other states, in part, because of the fact that we are required to pass a balanced budget by our state constitution. All of the departments are also conducting a top to bottom review requested by Gov. Haslam and will be sharing the results of these reviews during the budget hearing process in the General Assembly. As Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee, we have scheduled to hear the Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s budget hearing on February 15th, 2012 and the Department of Transportation’s budget hearing on February 22nd, 2012.
Now that all of the legislation has been filed and the deadline has passed it is time to start presenting bills in the various committees and hopefully passing them through the full Senate. The first bill I passed this session is Senate Bill 1680. This bill requires hands-on practice and training for students in junior high and high school that are taking a course that has CPR training as part of the curriculum. It passed the Senate 31-0 and now moves to the house for passage.