Categories
Press Releases

Judicial Appointment Council Sends 3 Names to Haslam for 3rd District Circuit Court Vacancy

Press release from the Administrative Office of the Tennessee Courts; February 11, 2015:

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments met on February 11, 2015 in Greeneville to hold a public hearing and conduct interviews of candidates for the circuit court vacancy in the 3rd Judicial District, which serves Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, and Hawkins counties.

After interviewing the candidates and conducting a vote, the Commission has submitted the following three as nominees to Gov. Bill Haslam for the vacancy:

Kenneth Newton Bailey, Jr.
Greeneville

Beth Boniface
Morristown

Linda Thomas Woolsey
Greeneville

The vacancy was created by the death of the Honorable Michael Faulk, who died in November.

Categories
Press Releases

Haslam Releases 2015 Legislative Agenda

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 10, 2015:

Bills include last-dollar scholarships to community college for adult learners 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today filed legislation that is reflected in his FY 2015-16 budget proposal. The bills are a result of the governor’s continued focus on more Tennesseans earning a post-secondary credential, supporting teachers across the state and building a more customer-focused, efficient and effective state government.

“These legislative proposals build on the Drive to 55, our effort to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025.  We know that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal, so we’re specifically looking to get adults with some college credit to go back and earn their degree,” Haslam said.

“Along with including $100 million in the budget for teacher salaries, the proposals are also aimed at supporting educators in meaningful ways, and we are always looking for ways to recruit, reward and retain the best and brightest to serve in state government.”

The governor’s legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), includes:

  • The Community College Reconnect Grant pilot program would use a one-time payment of $1.5 million in lottery funds in the FY 2015-16 budget proposal to provide last-dollar scholarships to adults with some college credit to attend a community college. In Tennessee there are nearly 1 million adults with some post-secondary credit but no degree, and this is an additional component of the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative.
  • The Educators’ Liability Trust Fund would provide personal liability coverage to teachers free of charge. While many teachers are covered through their school districts’ insurance plans, the governor heard from many in his conversations around the state that they are concerned they’re not adequately covered and teachers end up paying for liability protection at their own expense. This year’s budget proposal includes a one-time appropriation of $5 million to establish the fund to provide coverage.
  • The Revenue Modernization Act would help keep Tennessee a low tax state by leveling the playing field between in-state companies and out-of-state companies doing business in Tennessee. The proposal would also seek to close certain loopholes by adapting to changes in the way products are bought and sold. The proposed legislation includes:
    • Addressing “nexus” in sales and use, franchise and excise, and business taxes;
    • Adopting market-based sourcing of services to determine which state counts the sale of service for tax purposes when a company conducts business in more than one state;
    • Making Tennessee’s tax structure more competitive with surrounding states by changing the way a multi-state company’s income and net worth is taxed for franchise and excise purposes;
    • And allowing the use of software and video games being accessed remotely to be subject to sales tax as if they had been purchased or downloaded.
  • The Compensation Enhancement Act continues the administration’s focus on recruiting, retaining and rewarding a talented state government workforce by adapting longevity payments to help implement the market- and performance-based compensation plan. Since the governor took office, $139.4 million has been allocated in the state budget for salary increases, and the FY 2015-16 budget proposal includes another $47.7 million for salary increases. Under the proposal, executive branch employees would receive a permanent increase to their base salary equal to half of the longevity payment due, effective July 2015. The remaining half of the longevity payment would be reallocated to the state’s General Fund and then used to fund market- and performance-based salary increases.
  • The State Health Insurance Reform legislation aims to address the rising state employee retirement health care costs and give the state flexibility to offer more competitive total compensation packages and to design benefits for state employees. Key changes include:
    • The state would have the flexibility to offer a defined contribution or defined benefit to current employees for pre-65 retiree health insurance, reflecting the practice of most large private sector employers, and state and local education employees hired after July 1, 2015, would not be eligible for pre-65 retiree health insurance;
    • The State Insurance Committee would have the flexibility to change the percent subsidy that is given to the active state employees by offering one basic health plan;
    • After July 1, 2015, no part time state employee may be eligible for any insurance plan while current employees working 1,450 hours or more per year will be grandfathered into the plan;
    • The state would not offer Medicare Supplement Insurance under the state and teacher insurance plans for employees hired after July 1, 2015.

The governor previously filed the following three pieces of legislation in January: the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act, Protection of Volunteer-Insured Drivers of the Elderly (PROVIDE) Act, and the Tennessee Promise Implementation Adjustments Act.

Categories
Press Releases

Responses to Gov. Haslam’s State of the State Address

Press release from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; February 9, 2015:

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) made the statement below following Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State address:

“Governor Haslam has delivered yet another outstanding State of the State address setting an agenda that will continue to make Tennessee the best state in the union to live, work and raise a family. Four years of conservative governance has brought Tennesseans more jobs, lower taxes and smaller and more efficient government. We have accomplished much together in the past four years, but there is still much left to do. I particularly appreciate Governor Haslam’s continued focus on education reform building upon Tennessee’s strong record of improvement. I look forward to working with Governor Haslam as we reward good teachers and lift our expectations up to a true Tennessee standard that challenges and prepares students for the high quality jobs of the future.”

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 9, 2015:

Sen. Yarbro confident Insure Tennessee will be reintroduced

NASHVILLE – Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statements in response to Gov. Bill Haslam’s state of the state address:

“Making health care affordable for everyone is the most important issue facing our state,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro said. “We need the governor and common sense legislators of both parties to come together around a plan. I am confident that Insure Tennessee will be reintroduced during this session.”

“Our state is making extraordinary gains in education, and I would be very troubled to see that progress stop over one party’s partisan political objections,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “We need to continue to support the highest standards for our students and keep up the progress we’ve made.”

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; February 9, 2015:

Looks for more middle-class outward approach

Nashville, TN: House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement following Governor Haslam’s State of the State speech:

“Though I am pleased to hear our teachers are finally getting the raise they were promised last year, I didn’t hear much about helping the working people of our state just a week after this body denied them health care. We’re still not talking about paid family leave, overtime compensation, and parental involvement in schools. Democrats think we need a more middle-class outward approach and that’s what you’ll see from us over the next few weeks.”

 

Categories
Press Releases

Haslam Pledges ‘Full Speed Ahead’ in 2015 State of the State

Press release from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 9, 2015:

Governor’s budget proposal prioritizes K-12 and higher education, jobs  

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam tonight delivered his 2015 State of the State and Budget address before a joint session of the 109th General Assembly in the House Chamber.

During the speech, he promised to move “full speed ahead” in serving Tennessee taxpayers and highlighted many of the state’s successes.

“I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways,” Haslam said. “There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.”

Haslam noted several of the state’s accomplishments, including:

  • Nearly 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee since 2011, and Tennessee holds the designation of “State of the Year” in economic development for an unprecedented second year in a row.
  • Tennessee leads the country in academic achievement gains and through the Tennessee Promise is the first state ever to promise high school graduates two years at a community or technical college free of tuition and fees.
  • This year, out of 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 applied for the Tennessee Promise and 9,200 adult Tennesseans signed up to be volunteer mentors for these students.
  • Tennessee has the lowest debt per capita of any state and among the lowest tax rates.

Haslam also emphasized the importance of education in Tennessee – both K-12 and higher ed.

“I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future,” Haslam said. “We have to keep going full speed ahead.  We can’t afford to go backwards.  We’ve come too far to sell ourselves short. It would be an injustice to our students, to our teachers, to Tennessee families, and to ourselves.”

He underscored the state’s efforts to ensure a strong workforce through a focus on workforce development and his Drive to 55 initiative that aims to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025.  Part of that effort is the Tennessee Promise.

“For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better trained workers who can fill the jobs that companies want to bring here. We think the Tennessee Promise is a game changer.

“But the reality is that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal,” he continued.  “In Tennessee, there are nearly one million adults with some post-secondary credit but without a degree. We have to figure out ways to reconnect those adults and remove the barriers that are preventing so many Tennesseans from earning their certificate or degree, which will lead to a better job and future.”

As part of the address, the governor outlined his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 which reflects $300 million in revenue growth, $500 million in cost increases and $200 million in reductions.

“Every year we have a limited amount of new money that is available from our revenue growth,” Haslam said.  “That new money rarely keeps pace with our budget obligations and growing costs for education and health care.  That’s why it is so important that our state has built a track record of fiscal restraint.

“That’s why we have to try different approaches that will help us keep costs down while increasing quality and outcomes in health care.”

The governor’s budget proposal includes nearly $170 million for K-12 education, including:

  • $100 million dollars for increasing teacher salaries, which amounts to a four percent pool that local education associations (LEAs) will have available as they make local decisions to increase teacher pay;
  • Nearly $44 million to fully fund the Basic Education Program; and
  • $5 million to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to Tennessee teachers at no cost to them.Notable higher education investments include:
  • $260 million for capital projects, including new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee, nearly $25 million for improvements to colleges of applied technology across the state and funding for a fine arts classroom building at East Tennessee State University;
  • $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula; and
  • $10 million for need-based scholarships for students;

The budget also includes specific workforce development investments geared to the governor’s Drive to 55 effort including:

  • $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts geared toward adult students, technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners, and a one-stop portal for adults;
  • $2.5 million to support the success of the SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program which address remediation in high school;
  • $1.5 million to provide last dollar scholarships to adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college;
  • $1 million to establish competitive grants to 2-year and 4-year institutions to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans; and
  • $400,000 to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program, which will bring first-generation college students to campus prior to fall enrollment, which is one more step in making sure they have the best chance possible to succeed.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • $48 million for state employee pay raises and compensation tied to performance and ongoing market adjustments; and
  • $36.5 million dollars for the Rainy Day Fund to bring it to $528 million.

The governor’s legislative agenda will be announced Tuesday.

The complete text of the governor’s speech and an archived video of his speech will be available at www.tn.gov/stateofthestate.

***

Complete text of the governor’s speech follows:

Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, Speaker Harwell, Speaker Pro Tem Watson, Speaker Pro Tem Johnson, Members of the 109 th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, Commissioners, friends, guests and fellow Tennesseans:

First, let me begin by assuring you that I don’t plan on making you listen to me give an address every week. There was the inauguration a couple of weeks ago, Insure Tennessee last Monday, and then tonight. I’m sure some of you are already tired of hearing me, so this will be the shortest State of the State speech yet.

Last week, the decision was made not to move forward with Insure Tennessee. However, that does not mean the issues around health care go away. Too many Tennesseans are still not getting health coverage they need in the right way, in the right place, at the right time. An emergency room is not the place where so many Tennesseans should be going for health care services. It’s not the best health care for them, and it’s costing us a lot more in the long run.

Health care costs are still eating up too much of our state’s budget and impacting the federal deficit and nation’s debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if we maintained health care costs at their current levels, which we know are inflated, for the next eight years – just kept them flat – we’d eliminate the nation’s deficit. To do that, we can’t keep doing what we have been doing.

So, though the special session has ended, I hope we can find a way to work together to address those problems.

As we transition from the special session to the regular session, I look forward to continuing to work together on the important issues that face our state and our citizens.

This evening, I am here to update you on how we’re doing as a state and to present our administration’s budget. You will see in the budget that we are continuing to invest in the things that we believe in and that Tennesseans care about: education, jobs and a customer-focused, efficient and effective state government.

I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways. There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.

Nearly 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee in the last four years, and we hold the designation of “State of the Year” in economic development for an unprecedented second year in a row.

We lead the country in academic achievement gains, and we are the first state ever to promise that our high school seniors can attend two years at a community or technical college free of tuition and fees.

We have the lowest debt per capita of any state and among the lowest tax rates.

So, we have a lot of momentum to build on, and as I said several weeks ago at the inaugural, we’re not letting our foot off the gas.

The next four years also come with the reality that we will face the same budget challenges that we have faced in the past four years. Every year we have a limited amount of new money that is available from our revenue growth. That new money rarely keeps pace with our budget obligations and growing costs for education and health care. That’s why it is so important that our state has built a track record of fiscal restraint.

There are a lot of things that state government is responsible for and that we’re accomplishing that you may not know about. I still learn something new from our departments all of the time.

For example:

  • Our Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities’ state service delivery system is the very first to be accredited in the nation.
  • In the Department of Children’s Services, the Child Abuse Hotline took 140,000 calls and 80 percent of those calls were answered within 20 seconds, which exceeds national standards.
  • In 2014, there were fewer accidental fire-related deaths in Tennessee than in any year in recorded history.
  • Last year, Tennessee had the second lowest number of traffic fatalities of the past 50 years.
  • Average wait times in our driver services centers have dropped from over 32 minutes in 2011 to under 24 minutes in 2014.
  • Tennessee State Parks had 35 million visits last year.
  • The Department of Veteran’s Affairs serves about 10 percent of our state, more than half a million veterans and their dependents each year.
  • We are all concerned about prescription drug abuse in our state, and from the work of our Public Safety Subcabinet and legislation you’ve passed, the amount of narcotic pain medication prescribed in Tennessee is down five percent. And, doctor shopping is down 42 percent from its peak in 2011.

All that work starts with a state government that is up to the task. That means a customerfocused government that recruits, retains and rewards the best and brightest employees to serve.

Three years ago, we worked with the General Assembly to overhaul our outdated employment system. Because of that, we are now able to recruit, hire and promote based on who is best for the job, not who has been in line the longest.

Two years ago, we put $60 million in the budget to raise state employee salaries to be more in line with the market place.

This year, we are including $48 million in the budget for employee pay raises and market adjustments. That amounts to a three percent pool, but unlike in years past, those won’t be across the board. Pay raises and compensation will be tied to employee performance in addition to ongoing market adjustments. We have worked hard to bring employee salaries up to be competitive with the private sector. After nearly two years of implementing performance evaluations, it makes sense to take the next step to move toward rewarding employees like the private sector does – on their performance and results, not just on seniority.

As we continue to prepare for a changing workforce, we are doing all we can to give our commissioners the tools and flexibility to meet the needs of their departments.

We are going to be asking a lot from our employees as we move full speed ahead. I am grateful for the dedication of employees all across the state, and I’m excited about the opportunity to better recognize and reward them for their work.

As we talk about state government’s workforce, we are also making certain that Tennesseans are prepared for the workforce challenges of today’s global market economy.

There has been a lot of talk in this country about the income gap – about our shrinking middle class – and it’s no secret that Republicans and Democrats have some different views about the best ways to address that. But there is a truth that we all know and that we can all agree on.

The best answer of all involves creating opportunity for more people to be prepared for the jobs of the future.

If you take a two-earner high school educated couple and they both obtain college degrees, their income rises on average $58,000 per year.

Unfortunately, in our country, the escalator has stopped. In ranking the world’s countries by the percentage of the population with a degree, the United States ranked second in 2000. Today, we are fifth, and most disturbingly, we ranked 12th among the 25 to 34-year-old age group.

More Americans, almost 30 percent, have less education than their parents, than the 20 percent who have more education than their parents.

In Tennessee, we are doing something about that. Two years ago, we announced our Drive to 55 to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school up from 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Last year, we introduced the Tennessee Promise – the very first state in the country to guarantee high school graduates two years of free community college or technical school.

This year, of our 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 of them applied for the Tennessee Promise. Equally notable, 9,200 adult Tennesseans signed up to be volunteer mentors for those students. For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better trained workers who can fill the jobs that companies want to bring here. We think the Tennessee Promise is a game changer.

We know that access is important, but even more important is success. Not only do we need to get those students into school, they need to finish. That’s why the mentor piece of the Tennessee Promise is so important.

But we’re also going to include $400,000 in this year’s budget to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program. It’s a pilot program to bring first-generation students to campus prior to fall enrollment. When nobody in your family has ever gone to college before, being there can be intimidating. This is one more step to make sure these students have the best chance possible to succeed.

It is also why our SAILS program is so important. SAILS gives students who need extra support in math that attention during their senior year in high school so they can avoid remediation when they enter college. We piloted the program two years ago, and the results speak for themselves.

Last year, 8,100 students were served by the SAILS program, and almost 70 percent of those students completed all remediation while still in high school. That saved families nearly $6.5 million in tuition.

This year we are including $2.5 million to sustain the success of the SAILS program.

But the reality is that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal. In Tennessee, there are nearly one million adults with some post-secondary credit but without a degree. We have to figure out ways to reconnect those adults and remove the barriers that are preventing them from earning their certificate or degree, which will lead to a better job and future.

We are including $1.5 million dollars in this year’s budget for a pilot program – modeled after the Tennessee Promise – to provide last dollar scholarships to adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college.

Also, beginning this fall, any Tennessee adult will be able to attend a Tennessee College of Applied Technology absolutely free.

The budget also includes nearly $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts geared toward adult students, technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners, and a one stop portal for adults.

One group of adults that has shown a lot of enthusiasm on college campuses is our veterans. From 2008 to 2013, we saw an increase of nearly 200 percent of veterans enrolling in our colleges and universities. Our Veterans Education Task Force has been working to address the unique needs that our service men and women have when they come home and go back to school. Based on their report, the budget includes $1 million to set up competitive grants to 2-year and 4-year schools to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans to be successful in earning a degree or certificate.

As we drive more students to our community colleges, technical colleges and universities, we are expecting more from our schools than we ever have before.

We are asking them to move full speed ahead too. We want to make sure they’re keeping expenses low and working to control tuition costs. We’re asking them to make sure they’re providing the right instruction and classes that lead to real jobs.

We know that we have a role to play in this process too. We’ve made education, both K-12 and higher ed, top priorities – both from a policy standpoint and through our budgets. This year is no exception.

In response to our schools’ new focus on success and completion, we will be investing $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula.

The budget will also include $10 million to fund more need-based scholarships for students.

We’ve budgeted more than $260 million for higher ed capital. That funds new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee. It also includes nearly $25 million for improvements to our colleges of applied technology all across the state, and it includes the funds to complete the long awaited fine arts building at East Tennessee State University.

The reason we continue to make these investments in education is we want Tennesseans to have the education, training and skills necessary to have a good paying, high-quality job.

And we’re having a lot of success in attracting those jobs to Tennessee. Tennessee has become known around the world as a leading automobile manufacturing state. That’s good news because those are good jobs that bring a lot of other good jobs with them through the supplier network.

In the past, while companies might have trusted us to build their automobiles, they typically put their research and development efforts elsewhere. Today that’s changing, and more and more research and development jobs connected to manufacturing are coming to Tennessee. We want to be known as a state where employers can find the job skills that they need no matter what the skill level of the job might be.

If we are going to achieve the goals of the Drive to 55, then Tennesseans must first have a strong foundation through what they learn in elementary, middle and high school.

I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future. We have to keep going full speed ahead. We can’t afford to go backwards.

We’ve come too far to sell ourselves short. It would be an injustice to our students, to our teachers, to Tennessee families, and to ourselves.

There has been a lot of discussion about education, here and in schools and communities across the state. Most of the discussions have been around three things: state standards – what we will expect every student to know at every step along the way in his or her education journey; student assessments – how we will measure what students have learned through the year; and teacher evaluations.

Let’s start with standards. Standards are the foundational skills that students should know at different grade levels. For example, one of the kindergarten reading standards is to “demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds,” which includes recognizing and producing rhyming words and counting, pronouncing, blending and segmenting syllables in spoken words.

We typically review education standards – like that one – every six years, but because of the ongoing conversation on a state and national level, we thought it was appropriate to take a fresh look at them now, after four years. It is important for us to realize that there are more than 1,100 standards for English language arts and more than 900 for math.

Back in November, we launched a website where Tennesseans can go to review and make comments on our existing state standards. This spring, the Southern Regional Education Board, an independent, third party organization, will collect the input from the website, which will then be reviewed and analyzed by six advisory teams divided up by subject matter and made up of Tennessee educators. Those teams will then make recommendations to two expert committees of educators, which will then propose changes to the State Board of Education.

If you haven’t visited the website, I encourage you to do so. So far, nearly 82,000 comments have been submitted. I expect that we’re going to talk about state standards this session, and I think it is important that we know exactly what the standards are that we’re talking about and possibly voting on.

To me, it doesn’t really matter what we call our standards. What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible. What does matter is that we continue to have high expectations for our students, teachers and this state. We can come up with Tennessee standards that allow our students to compete with anyone in the world.

Over the past four years, I’ve met with thousands of educators to get feedback on what’s going well in our schools and classrooms and what’s not. One thing I hear a lot is frustration about the feeling that their profession is treated like a political football. We have to give our educators more stability and certainty in their classrooms and not change the game on them session after session.

We’ve proposed legislation that specifically addresses many of the concerns I’ve been hearing from teachers including the alignment of what they’re teaching with our year-end assessment and having the Department of Education provide more information about the annual tests so they can better prepare their students every year. We are also proposing to make reasonable changes to teacher evaluations, and we’re focusing on overall improved communication and collaboration with educators.

We are asking more of our teachers and their students than ever before. And guess what? Teachers and students are rising up to the challenge.

By now, almost everyone knows that Tennessee is making impressive gains in academic achievement. I expect there will be a lot of discussion about education this session, and there should be. You’ve heard me say it before, but it bears repeating: There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right. That’s why in this year’s budget, we are proposing nearly $170 million more for K-12 education.

The budget includes nearly $44 million to account for growth in the Basic Education Program. While other states are cutting K-12 education, Tennessee continues to be one of the few states in the country to make significant investments. In fact, our state spending on K-12 education over the past four years increased at a rate more than double the national average.

We know that a big part of success is to have a great teacher leading every classroom. Just like with state employees, we want to recruit, retain and reward the best and brightest educators. A big piece of doing that is paying good teachers well. One of our goals in Tennessee is to not only be the fastest improving state in academic achievement gains but to also be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation. Tonight, I am pleased to announce that the budget includes $100 million for increasing teacher salaries. That amounts to a four percent pool that local education associations will have available as they make decisions on increasing teacher pay.

We are also including $5 million in the budget to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to our teachers at no cost.

We will continue doing all we can to work with educators and support them as professionals who are shaping the future of our children and our state.

In this year’s budget, we have $300 million in new revenue to work with and $500 million in cost increases, primarily for education and health care increases. That’s why we have to try different approaches that will help us keep costs down while increasing quality and outcomes in health care.

Obviously, those increases have necessitated $200 million in cost reductions in other places. The cost reductions that we make are painful and involve hard choices but without making those hard choices in the budget, we simply could not keep producing a balanced budget every year. Since we’ve been in office, we have redirected more than $450 million so that we can keep funding our state’s needs while we are balancing our budget.

The reality is that’s not going to change. We are going to have to continue to look for ways to cut costs and reallocate resources. One of the things that we like the best about Tennessee is our low tax structure, but that also means that we have limited revenues to fund the programs and services that Tennessee taxpayers rely on.

That’s why we’ve worked to better manage our real estate and office space that results in real savings. That’s why we’re taking the next step to reduce energy costs and consumption across  our departments through our Empower Tennessee program. That’s why we work to maintain the low debt that we have as a state. By the way, continuing to pay off our debt this year means that we’ll spend $13 million less this year on interest than we did last year.

And, we’re going to make certain that we’re prepared for the future by continuing to strengthen our Rainy Day Fund. This year we will add $36.5 million to bring the total to $528 million.

After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget.

Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.

Some of it is a result of the natural volatility of business taxes in general. Some of it was due to over collections in which reimbursements weren’t accounted for in the budgeting process. And some of it is that companies outside of Tennessee, but that do business in Tennessee, aren’t always required to pay the same taxes that our in state and homegrown companies do.

Through the analysis, we found that Tennessee has fallen behind other states in protecting our in state businesses from unfair competition from out of state companies.

To remedy that, we will file the Revenue Modernization Act, which aims to level the playing field in terms of sales tax and business taxes.

The bill also capitalizes on trends that we’re seeing in product distribution by creating an incentive for companies to use Tennessee’s distribution industry, which maximizes our state’s strengths.

We are committed to Tennessee remaining a low tax state. This proposal simply brings us in line to better compete with other states and to not put our in state businesses at a disadvantage, which we are doing today.

I understand, for all of us, there is a lot of work, demand and pressure that comes with being an elected official, but there is also something really special about serving our fellow Tennesseans.

As I look back on the past four years, it is pretty incredible all that we have gotten done in working together. In looking back, I also see how fast time goes by. That’s why we’re not letting up on the throttle these next four years. We have to go full speed ahead because there is still a lot of work to do.

After the Insure Tennessee vote last week, there has been a lot of speculation about what happened. Some people have asked me if it was a waste of time and if I regret bringing the proposal. The answer is no to both.

To me the work we do here shouldn’t just be about winning or losing. That’s what’s wrong with Washington. Every issue is cast in terms of political wins and losses. It should be about getting to the right answer, serving the people of Tennessee, and doing our part to make lives better.

Last week, I talked about coming here not just to make a point but to make a difference. It’s about looking for answers not just having an agenda. With great power comes great responsibility.

I was in Washington weekend before last for a series of dinners and events. There were a lot of people who are currently in power and more than a few who used to be in power and have moved off of the stage. Some of those who are no longer on the stage wished mightily that they could be back on it. Others were content to have played their role at their particular time. Regardless, it reminded me that we all have a shelf life. At some point, it will be our turn to move off of this stage and to move on from here. When that time comes, let’s be able to look back knowing that while we had the high privilege of serving here, we did everything we could to make Tennessee an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.

Until that time comes, let’s keep moving full speed ahead.

Categories
Press Releases

TNDP: In ‘Overt Snub’ to Haslam, Ramsey Rigged Health Committee to Kill ‘Insure TN’

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; February 9, 2015:

Ongoing Power Struggle Between Ramsey and Gov. Haslam Threatens Tennesseans’ Lives

Nashville, Tenn. (February 9, 2015) – In an overt snub to Governor Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey stacked the State Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee with “no” votes to kill Insure Tennessee, the Governor’s proposed health care plan.

Rather than working with his own party’s Governor on his top legislative priority and providing hardworking Tennesseans with access to quality, affordable health care, Ramsey rigged the Senate Health and Welfare Committee by removing three health care professionals and the bill’s sponsor and replacing them with hand-picking vocal opponents of Insure Tennessee [see attached graphic]. If he had allowed the duly appointed standing Health and Welfare Committee to remain intact and rule on the proposal, Insure Tennessee would have likely passed by at least a 6-3 vote. Ramsey’s crass power play ensured the death of Insure Tennessee.

The result of Ramsey’s rigged committee:

  • The lives of approximately 280,000 working Tennesseans are now in danger as they will continue to go without health care.
  • Billions of dollars of taxpayer money will be lost – money that hardworking Tennesseans have already paid in taxes will now flow to other states to pay for their health care.
  • As many as one-third of the state’s hospitals remain in danger of closing, resulting in thousands of lost jobs and endangering rural Tennesseans, who will have to drive several counties away in order to receive emergency care.
  • Businesses will avoid those regions of our state where there is no hospital.

Also to be noted is that six of the seven Republican senators who voted to kill Insure Tennessee accept and benefit from health care coverage provided to them by their employer – the state of Tennessee.

It is the height of hypocrisy to not only accept taxpayer-funded health coverage while denying it to others, but also to pretend that the legislative process was fair when it was rigged from the beginning.

***
Senate Health & Welfare Comparison
Categories
Press Releases

TSEA Defends State Health Insurance Plan

Press release from the Tennessee State Employees Association; February 6, 2015:

Statement by TSEA President Bryan Merritt on the state health insurance plan being used as political theatre during the Insure Tennessee debate

The Tennessee State Employees Association is disappointed by allegations during the Insure Tennessee debate that the state health insurance plan is a taxpayer subsidy.

Our state health insurance is not a subsidy. It’s a benefit of employment that every state employee earns by their service to the state of Tennessee, including our state legislators.

To be competitive in its hiring efforts versus other large business entities, the State of Tennessee offers health insurance to its employees. But that insurance is not free.  In addition to the 20% that state employees pay directly, state employees receive a reduced salary in exchange for the benefit. In effect, state employees pay for all of the insurance they receive one way or the other.

While state legislators may be classified as part-time employees, they are subject to being ‘on call’ to their constituents seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. They earn their right to state insurance every day.

Anyone who says this is a subsidy simply does not understand insurance. Legislators who do not enroll in the state insurance plan typically have access to other insurance options through their private employment or family. Not all legislators have the luxury of that option.

We would hope no legislator feels they must withdraw from the state insurance system because of inaccurate, disingenuous political attacks over this benefit. The debate over Insure Tennessee should be focused on the merits of the proposal.

The state insurance plan provides coverage to over 270,000 state and local government employees and their family members. TSEA has taken no position in the debate over Governor Haslam’s plan to extend Medicare benefits under his Insure Tennessee proposal.

Founded in 1974, TSEA represents the rights and interests of 40,000 state employees in Tennessee and has a rich history of improving the lives of its state employee members. For further information, visit TSEA’s website at www.tseaonline.org.

Categories
Press Releases

Ramsey: Senate Couldn’t Approve ‘Mere Verbal Agreement’ with Obama Administraion

Statement from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; February 4, 2015:

Lt. Governor Ramsey made the statement below following the defeat of SJR0001 in the Senate Select Health Committee:

“Governor Haslam’s hard work and passion on Insure Tennessee has been made clear this week. While many questions have been answered during this special session, several questions remain unanswered. Ultimately, the absence of a clear, written agreement between the federal government and the State of Tennessee made passage impossible. Tennessee has always been a well-run, fiscally-responsible state. We could not in good conscience put our stamp of approval on a mere verbal agreement with the Obama administration.”

Categories
Press Releases

Beacon Center Praises General Assembly for Rejecting Medicaid Expansion

Press release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee; February 4, 2015:

The Beacon Center applauds legislators for rejecting a Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. Instead of supporting this extension of Obamacare in our state, lawmakers stood with the Beacon Center and fought for what was right, choosing taxpayers over special interest groups.

While the Beacon Center disagreed with Governor Haslam’s plan, we do want to thank him for bringing an important issue to light and trying to come up with a unique Tennessee solution to this issue. We also believe those who supported “Insure Tennessee” had the best of intentions, and we look forward to working with them in the coming months to find a responsible, cost-effective, free market solution that will truly benefit low-income Tennesseans.

“While stopping the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was a necessary first step, it is still our responsibility as Tennesseans to find affordable healthcare solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Beacon CEO Justin Owen.

To that end, Beacon is calling for passage of right-to-try legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving medicine. Beacon will also work with state leaders to expand access to charity care, reduce the costs imposed by health insurance mandates, and allow Tennesseans to purchase health insurance across state lines.

“There are many things we can do to make healthcare and health insurance more affordable and accessible for all Tennesseans,” said Lindsay Boyd, Beacon Director of Policy. “We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work helping those most in need.”

Categories
Press Releases

Cohen, Cooper Critical of General Assembly’s Rejection of Insure TN

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 4, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today issued the following statement regarding the Tennessee State Senate Health & Welfare Committee, by a vote of 4 to 7, effectively killing Governor Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” plan to expand Medicaid in Tennessee:

“Foolish, foolish, foolish. Sad, sad, sad. Sick, sick, sick.”

“This vote is foolish because it leaves $1 billion in federal funds each year on the table that could have helped keep hospitals open, boosted our economy, and improved our citizens’ health.”

“This vote is sad because it shows inhumanity and disdain for Tennessee’s sick and our poorest citizens in need of health care.”

“And it is sick because some of those Tennesseans will die as a result of this decision. Those who voted ‘no’ today made a foolish, sad, sick and outright wrong decision.”

Press release from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. 05; February 4, 2015:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5) today issued the following statement:

“Tennesseans will die and hospitals will close as a result of our cruel state legislature. Rarely in state history have we seen such a devastating lack of leadership.”

Categories
Press Releases

Full Haslam Remarks from Extraordinary Session Launch

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 2, 2015:

Lt. Gov. Ramsey, Speaker Harwell, and members of the Tennessee General Assembly:

Let me begin by thanking you for the opportunity to come before you as you begin this Special Session. Calling a Special Session, which I’ve never done before, is not something I take lightly. I understand the difficulty of the subject we will be discussing. Issues surrounding health care are complex, and the politics can seem difficult, but there are few challenges facing our state or our country today as great as those presented by our broken health care system. I just don’t believe that we can sit back and do nothing.

It might be worth it to remind ourselves how we got here. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. It was a massive piece of legislation that passed on a totally partisan basis. It was incredibly controversial then, and today, over five years later, it remains controversial.

In June of 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a question about the legality of the Affordable Care Act. In a somewhat surprising ruling, they determined that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional but that the federal government could not force states to expand their Medicaid programs. Every state was left to decide on its own whether or not to cover the newly eligible population. While some states immediately decided that they would, others quickly said no. In Tennessee, we took time to evaluate our options to find the right answer for our state. In March of 2013, almost two years ago, I was in this chamber to tell you that Tennessee would not expand our Medicaid program. Expanding a broken system doesn’t make sense. But, I also didn’t think that flat out saying no to accepting federal dollars that Tennesseans are paying for, that are going to other states, and that could cover more Tennesseans who truly need insurance made much sense either.

So we started the work to find a third way – a Tennessee Plan. A plan that would leverage those federal dollars to really begin the work of fixing what is wrong with our health care system, to better align incentives for providers and consumers.

Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I think everyone agrees that our current system of health care does not work. It doesn’t work in two ways – access nor cost. First, there are too many people who need medical care that aren’t getting it. Secondly, everyone should realize that we have to do something to address health care costs.

My problem with Obamacare is that they took on one of those issues – providing more access to health care for folks without insurance coverage – but they did nothing to address the issues around the cost of health care. That was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.

In Tennessee, we want to do something to address that: To have a plan that leverages those federal dollars to really begin the work of fixing what’s wrong with our healthcare system; To better align incentives for providers and consumers; To move away from a fee-for-service, completely volume-driven structure to an outcomes, value-based approach for our providers; And we saw an opportunity for more Tennesseans to be covered in a way that would make them active participants in their health, with skin in the game, and reward them for healthy choices.

After nearly two years of hard work, we have a Tennessee-specific plan that addresses health outcomes and cost. This is not Obamacare. If it was, it wouldn’t have taken us this long to negotiate. We have done what you asked us to do and what we said we would do. We found a unique, Tennessee solution. Here’s how it works:

Insure Tennessee is a two-year pilot program that will not create any new taxes for Tennesseans and will not add any state cost to the budget. Once the 100 percent federal match is lowered to its eventual 90 percent, the Tennessee Hospital Association has committed that the industry will cover any additional cost to the state. The program will automatically terminate in the event that either federal funding or support from the hospitals changes in any way. The plan will provide two new options of health care coverage not currently provided in a traditional Medicaid program.

The first is called the Volunteer Plan. It will provide a voucher to participants that they can use to take part in their employer’s health insurance plan. The voucher will be used to pay for premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses that are associated with private market plans.

The second is called the Healthy Incentives Plan. Participants in that plan could choose to receive coverage through a re-designed program of TennCare, which would introduce healthy incentives for Tennesseans, or HIT accounts, which are modeled after health reimbursement accounts and could be used to pay for a portion of the required cost sharing.

Insure Tennessee introduces personal responsibility and patient engagement through choice, incentives, and co-pays in a way that doesn’t happen with Medicaid.

I want you to know how much I appreciate all of you who have truly dug in on this issue. I know there are a lot of honest questions, and I have been impressed with how many of you really are trying to find the right answer for you, your district, and our state. Many of you are concerned about what might happen if the federal government changes the rules, or if the hospitals change their mind about the assessment fee, or if after two years we decide that this is not right for Tennessee. In any of those events, we have the clear authority to end the program. There is a Supreme Court ruling, an Attorney General’s opinion, and a letter from the Secretary of Health and Human Services that affirm our right to do that.

Many of you have asked: “Will we really want to cut people from the rolls?” After all, Tennessee has been down that road before, and many of you were here 10 years ago when we went through the painful experience of doing that.

I’ve thought about that long and hard and intentionally set the program up as a two-year pilot so that if that decision has to be made, it would be made in a time while I am still governor instead of passing it on to my successor.

The way I answer that question is this: Imagine it’s your loved one that is in need of health care and has no way to pay for it now. He or she is like a man we heard about in Jackson two weeks ago. He was a carpenter who suffered from hypertension. He didn’t have insurance, so he didn’t have a primary care physician and used the emergency room when something went wrong. Because his hypertension wasn’t managed through preventative and regular care, he ended up having a stroke. That landed him in the hospital, followed by rehabilitation, and now he is unable to work.

He was a hard working Tennessean that wasn’t able to get the care he needed on the front end and that has real consequences for him and his family. It also means added cost for the rest of us. Having a stroke wasn’t only devastating to him and his family, it could have been prevented, and not preventing it is costly to all of us. It’s about getting the right care, at the right time, in the right place.

If you gave your loved one an option – you can have health coverage now to address your very real need and with that the possibility that you might lose it in the future, or you could never have it – which would you choose? If you think about your loved one, I bet the answer is simple.

I know that many of you are worried about the reliability of the federal government as our partner. I understand the concern, but I think it’s worthy of mention that the United States of America has never missed a scheduled Medicaid payment.

Some have said that this is about bringing Obamacare to Tennessee. It’s not. Tennesseans are already paying increased taxes due to Obamacare, and there are 150,000 people in this state receiving health care subsidies from Obamacare. And guess what? On average, those people are making three times more than the Tennesseans that would be covered through Insure Tennessee. That’s Obamacare, but that’s not what we’re talking about. This is a chance to make a real difference in health care.

Finally, I know that many of you share my concern about our state becoming even more reliant on a federal government that is deeply in debt. I think all of you know my view on budgets. Next week I will be presenting to you my fifth budget as the governor of the state of Tennessee, and we have a track record of being able to make hard decisions. We have a record of fiscal responsibility that is second to none, and I would never do anything to endanger the financial strength that so many have worked so hard to build.

On the federal government side, I would not do this if I didn’t honestly believe that our efforts will ultimately have a real impact on controlling health care costs in our country. Our country is not going to fix this issue around the deficit or around our national debt until we solve the health care cost crisis.

We should all be upset that Congress and President Obama passed a plan that did not do that when they had the chance. But we do have the chance. And that is why I’m recommending this plan.

As a Republican elected leader, I feel like we owe the country answers as to what we would do about health care. For too long, we’ve said what we don’t like – mainly Obamacare. This is a chance to show what we would do. We talk frequently about wishing Washington would just block grant Medicaid to us. I still wish they would do that. And if they did do it, we would come up with a plan that looks a lot like this. Admittedly, we would go further and take more steps, but the plan would look a lot like this.

I think this is also an issue about who we are. My faith doesn’t allow me to walk on the other side of the road and ignore a need that can be met – particularly in this case, when the need is Tennesseans who have life-threatening situations without access to health care. Particularly when the need can be met like this one can, without cost to our state, with money that our state is currently being taxed for and is sent elsewhere, and with a plan that can help answer one our nation’s biggest issues.

I know and fully appreciate that for many, the easiest thing is to say: “This is Obamacare, and I want nothing to do with it.”

I would ask you to look past the easy political argument and do what Tennesseans have always done – come up with a plan that addresses Tennesseans’ needs and do it in a fiscally responsible way. Like many of you, I didn’t come to state government just to make a point. I came to make a difference.

We have the chance to make a difference – a difference that will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans and at the same time to begin attacking the out of control health care costs that have driven our state and our country for too long.

Two years ago, the General Assembly made two requests of us: First, to bring a unique and specific plan to Tennessee that met the needs of our citizens and was financially responsible for our state and the country; And second, to bring that plan back to the General Assembly for a vote.

I have done both of those things.

This plan is overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and Democrats in our state.

Tonight, I am asking for your vote to help Insure Tennessee.