Governor’s State-of-the-State Speech Comes on Heels of Major Political Defeat

Just one week after his failed attempt to convince Tennessee lawmakers to approve a “market-based” Medicaid expansion plan, Gov. Bill Haslam will offer up his new budget and vision for the coming year in his annual “state of the state” speech.

It couldn’t really come at a more difficult time for the governor.

The Haslam administration has barely had time to regroup after the General Assembly’s summary execution of his proposal to draw down nearly $3 billion in federal funding to finance a unique Medicaid expansion experiment in Tennessee.

Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” would have offered a mix of private-market vouchers and government-run health coverage to 300,000 lower-income Tennesseans who aren’t already covered by Obamacare. The two-year “pilot” plan would have been paid for using monies made available through the Affordable Care Act.

Monday night’s speech for the Republican governor gives him an opportunity to reconnect with a GOP-run Legislature that he acknowledged being a little out of touch with politically.

A day after the “Insure Tennessee” setback, Haslam told a gathering of the state’s newspaper publishers at a Tennessee Press Association luncheon that he’d been caught off guard by the level of mistrust conservative state legislators harbor toward Washington, D.C. The governor admitted though that he was unable even to “move the needle” among Republicans skeptical that federal government and the Obama administration are trustworthy.

As with most state-of-the-state addresses, Haslam will likely spend a significant amount of time discussing education in Tennessee. He’ll likely focus on gains in student-achievement and teacher-performance that’ve been under his administration the last four years.

But the issue of Common Core looms large as well. And while Haslam has declared himself an unflinching proponent of tough academic standards, he’s become aware over the past year that the nationally focused math and English standards package is a “ruined brand,” loathed by a significant swath of state lawmakers. Many Republicans believe that Common Core sets the stage for more federal intrusion into state education decision-making.

On another controversial front, the governor last week said he’s uninterested this year in pressing ahead with a gas-tax tax increase to fund the state’s transportation infrastructure. Haslam said that more planning is necessary to prioritize how the tax would be used before he asks lawmakers to approve it.