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Haslam Signs State’s $31.5B Budget

Gov. Bill Haslam says he signed the state’s $31.5 billion spending plan Tuesday, putting into action a state budget that is $627 million less than this year’s.

In an interview with TNReport Tuesday afternoon, Haslam said he’s proud of the budget plan, which spends about $400 million more than he originally pitched to lawmakers and the public back in January.

“The ultimate budget had a lot of the things that we added back in when the revenue numbers improved,” Haslam said. The state spending plan runs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.

“I am somebody who believes in smaller government. I also think though, there’s critical services that we provide,” he said. “While we want to be really tough on how we spend taxpayers dollars, we also want to make certain we’re taking care of people we’re supposed to.”

The governor and Republicans heralded this year’s legislative session as a fiscal success story. Elimination of the state’s gift tax, phasing out the tax on wealthy inheritances and slightly trimming the tax on food were all noteworthy accomplishments, Haslam said.

The spending plan also put $133.4 million back into the budget to restore funding to so-called “core services” originally on the chopping block, such as $3.9 million fund Healthy Start and Child Health and Development programs and $1.4 million for mental health peer support centers.

This year’s budget is expected to top off at $32.1 billion by June 30, the end of the spending year, according to budget highlights from the General Assembly’s conference committee that hammered out final details of the budget.

The year before, Tennessee closed the books on $31.1 billion in spending, according to the governor’s original 2012-13 budget proposal.

The governor’s budget includes spending on projects and programs lawmakers at one point flagged as pork barrel spending, including a $500,000 for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va., across the street from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s Republican district Bristol in Tennessee.

“It’s kind of an easy target to say, oh that’s in Virginia. Why are we funding it when it’s yards from Tennessee?” he said. “It’s not like we funded something that’s in northwest Virginia.”

When asked if he was “comfortable” funding the museum, he said “I think I am… it’s a little different situation because of the way the city of Bristol is laid out.”

“Now, it is a fair question to say, ‘What are a local responsibility and what are private, philanthropy dollars,’” he said. “In the end, it’s always a judgment call on those.”

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