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Budget Beginnings: Haslam Team Focusing in on Fiscal Matters

Governor-elect Bill Haslam told reporters Monday that he and his advisers will be conferring this week with current Department of Finance and Administration officials to “further our education on the budget process.”

Haslam expects to submit a state budget by March 1. He has maintained in the past that ratcheting down state spending will be necessary in order to fill a billion-dollar-plus budget gap the state faces beginning in 2011.

The finance department issued numbers last month indicating revenue forecasts for the state may be improving somewhat. But Republicans, who this past election ushered Democrats to the margins of power for at least the next two years, campaigned on promises of tightening the reins on spending, and they’ve indicated that pressing for government cuts will be one of their priorities when the General Assembly convenes next month.

The outgoing Knoxville mayor, who was last month elected Tennessee’s 49th governor, must yet appoint a Finance and Administration commissioner of his own. Haslam said he wants to take his time finding a candidate with the appropriate skills for the job, which requires managing, tracking and projecting state spending and tax revenues, but anticipates making the appointment in the near future.

“The sooner the better, but we want to make sure we have the right person in place,” he said.

Haslam made the comments after naming his first commissioner, Julius Johnson, to head up the Department of Agriculture at the Tennessee Farm Bureau’s annual banquet Monday night. Johnson is a 15-year Farm Bureau executive.

Haslam has now appointed four people to help make up his administrative cabinet, including Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey as his chief of staff, business transaction lawyer Herbert Slatery as his top legal counsel, and former campaign manager Mark Cate as his special assistant.

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