A well-traveled Gov. Bill Haslam said he and his economic development team met with companies that already have a presence in Tennessee as well as some the state is trying to attract on his New York trip this week.
“It was good,” Haslam said Wednesday of the trip after speaking to a Nashville Downtown Partnership luncheon. “Whenever we do this we put together a lunch of site selection consultants who play a big role, and so we did that in New York as well. We had 10 different site selection consultants from different firms. We did the same thing in Chicago and San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
Haslam has been quite the frequent flier of late, including a short-notice trip to the White House to introduce President Barack Obama for an education announcement last Friday. The governor’s trip to New York included his participation in NBC’s Education Nation summit.
The recent high-profile events (the job recruitment was low-profile) have brought Haslam a sudden burst of national exposure. Haslam said in talking to reporters Wednesday that some of the timing was coincidence, but he noted substance behind the attention.
“I think it’s a recognition of the role Tennessee is playing — some of that started before I came — and the fact that we are trying to keep that momentum going as well,” he said.
Part of the attention simply has to do with the state of education, Haslam said.
“I do think it is kind of the topic of the hour, if you will, not just for Tennessee but for the country. People are looking around and saying we went from being No. 1 in the world (in education) to 14 in 20 years. I think all of us are realizing we’re going to have to have a different approach.”
He addressed several topics, including his thoughts on lottery revenue proposals.
The Tennessee Lottery is beginning to draw focus from the Legislature due to deficits that are running into millions of dollars. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has appointed members of a Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force, which is expected to make recommendations later this year. The purpose of the task force is to ensure the long-term viability of the lottery’s Hope scholarships.
“I think we should take a very measured approach,” Haslam said. “It is an issue. We are spending more than we’re bringing in, and we can’t keep doing that and kicking the can down the road.
“It’s not fair for us just to keep using more than we bring in and let somebody 10 years from now worry about it.”
One suggestion for bolstering the program has been to allow people to use debit cards to make their lottery purchases. The law requires that all lottery tickets be bought in person at a retailer, and tickets much be purchased with cash.
“I don’t know enough of the arguments, pro and con, on using debit cards,” Haslam said. “We’re looking at all the ways you can shrink that gap right now. By the time the Legislature comes around, we’ll have a voice in all that.
“What I asked my staff to do is let’s compare where we are to other states. The lottery board’s argument has always been the structure we have now allows us to sell more.”
Haslam called for a “market study” to find those comparisons.
Lawmakers are considering changes in the way students qualify for the scholarships as a way to keep the program on sound footing. Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, wrote a letter to fellow lawmakers this week, criticizing such attempts.
“The Lottery for Education account has more money in reserves than it pays out each year in scholarships, and yet we talk about its looming insolvency,” Kyle said in his letter. “I don’t know a single person with more money in their savings account than they spend in a year who considers themselves broke.”
On other topics, Haslam said he was not involved in the decision Wednesday that granted parole to former death row inmate Gaile Owens, who had been convicted for planning to have her husband killed. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen had commuted her sentence to life last year. Haslam said he had no comment to offer on Wednesday’s decision.
He was asked if there were a possibility that if Sen. Lamar Alexander, who said recently he plans to run for his seat again, were to quit during his term if Haslam would appoint himself to the Senate.
“I have no intention at all to do that,” Haslam said. “I have zero anticipation of doing that.”