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Business and Economy NewsTracker Tax and Budget

More Revenues Means More Spending

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday his conversations with legislators “have been very positive” regarding his budget proposal that will be addressed head-on in the next few days.

Haslam, capitalizing on a recent increase in revenues, unveiled an amendment this week to his original $30.2 billion budget plan announced in March. It includes $71.3 million in disaster relief funds after recent storms and flooding.

The state recently announced net positive growth of 1.7 percent in revenue over last year for April, taking in $1.264 billion, which was $600,000 more than budgeted. It was the 13th consecutive month of positive growth.

Based on new estimates of increased revenues, Haslam has filed a supplemental appropriations amendment that includes the disaster relief and restored funds for various health-related programs.

“Everybody likes it when you can spend more. We were going to have to make some cuts, particularly some of the TennCare cuts. None of us liked it. I didn’t like the mental health cuts myself,” Haslam said Tuesday. “So having the extra money, almost everyone is going to see that as a good thing.”

The funding priorities in the amendment listed by the administration include:

  • $4.7 million for the Department of Intellectual Disabilities Services restoring residential rates.
  • $1.9 million for mental health services for Northeast Tennessee through the Mountain State Health Alliance.
  • $8.5 million to restore rate reductions for TennCare mental health providers.
  • $5 million for the Memphis Regional Medical Center, Nashville General Hospital and Jellico Community Hospital.
  • $3.5 million for smoking cessation help in TennCare.
  • $6.9 million for programs at Meharry Medical College.
  • $220,000 for debt service on construction bonds for a $22.6 million, 108-bed state veterans’ home in Clarksville.

Haslam said Tuesday he believes an approach of being open about funding has been beneficial.

“I think the fact we’ve been up front all along with, ‘Here’s the money we have,’ when the extra money came in, we were very specific about what it was and what we were going to spend it on,” he said.

Haslam said the biggest financial surprise handed the state was money owed to Tennessee from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.

The amendment anticipates reimbursement of roughly $82 million in Medicaid funding errors. It is projected to cover $15.7 million for nursing home funding; $7.9 million for TennCare services including lab, X-ray, dental and transportation services; and $3.4 million for home health provider services. Meanwhile, $15.9 million for capital outlays in higher education are expected.

Other priorities in the budget amendment listed by the administration are $19 million for lottery scholarships in summer school; $5 million for the University of Memphis to operate the Lambuth campus in Jackson; $21 million for building maintenance; and $16.5 million for what the administration calls “a potential major economic development expansion project,” without elaboration.

Haslam reiterated warnings this week, however, about non-recurring funds, saying the budget includes $160 million in non-recurring money that will not be available next year.

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Press Releases

Haslam Names First Head of New ‘Intellectual Disabilities’ Department

Press Release from Gov.-Elect Bill Haslam, Dec. 22,2010:

Henry Will Be First Commissioner of New Department Formed by Legislature

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam today announced former state House Minority Leader Jim Henry as the first commissioner of the newly-formed Tennessee Department of Intellectual Disabilities.

The agency was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before the Tennessee Legislature made it a state department, and it will become official Jan. 5, 2011.

For the past 13 years, Henry has been the President and CEO of Omni Visions, Inc., a company serving adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis. The company has operations in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.

“I’m delighted that Jim has joined our team because I believe he’s the right man to lead this new department,” Haslam said. “Jim has personal experience with these issues, and he has dedicated much of his legislative and professional career to helping families and children affected by intellectual disabilities and its unique challenges.”

A former Kingston mayor, Henry spent 12 years as a state representative, advocating on behalf of individuals with developmental difficulties.

“I’m honored to serve with Gov.-elect Haslam and be a part of the outstanding team he’s building for Tennessee,” Henry said. “I’ve been a life-long advocate for those with and affected by intellectual disabilities, and as a father of a child with developmental difficulties, I’m committed to serving Tennesseans facing the same challenges my family and I do.”

Henry, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, is married to Patricia, and they have three grown children. They attend First Baptist Church in Kingston. He was recently honored as Hiwassee College’s Alumnus of the Year.

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News

Understanding Soldiers the Focus of Mental Health ‘Boot Camp’

With one of the largest military populations in the country, Tennessee is trying to ensure that service men and women coming home from war with mental illnesses are comfortable enough to get themselves treated.

One way to aid that effort, state officials say, is to put their health care professionals into boot camp first.

Last week, Tennessee enrolled state and private health care workers from around the country into a new program called “Operation Immersion,” a three-day event meant to increase understanding of military culture and the treatment of personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

About 80 officials from as far away as Hawaii and Washington, D.C., spent three days and two nights bunking at the Tennessee National Guard Training Center in Smyrna. Meals consisted of packaged food rations known as MREs. Wake up calls were at 0500 hours. And physical training and chores kicked off the day.

“They don’t live the way of life that we’ve grown up in, so by educating them it helps them, basically, help us,” said Maj. Paul Gonzales, a National Guard psychological health expert and speaker at last week’s boot camp.

The attendees spent much of their time listening to professionals from the field who detailed PTSD issues and behavioral problems unique to soldiers. They also taught the health care providers how to create similar programs in their own states.

The sessions were designed for counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and any other type of civilian practitioner who works with military personnel and wants to immerse themselves into the culture.

Trainers hope to have an impact in Tennessee, which boasts the sixth-largest National Guard in the nation and shares with Kentucky the distinction of housing the third-largest military population in the Army at Fort Campbell. It’s the seventh-largest in the Department of Defense.

More than 50,000 troops from the Volunteer State have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of war, including nearly 20,000 Tennessee National Guard troops.

The number of servicemen and women in the National Guard with mental health illnesses is slightly higher than those in active duty, according Noël Riley-Philpo, a licensed clinical social worker and director of Psychological Health for the Tennessee National Guard.

Guard members live dual lives, she said. They struggle readjusting to civilian life, are unsure whether their jobs will be there when they come back from war or have trouble reconciling the difference between who they are out in the field and their identity at home.

And those who do recognize they have may have a problem still attach a stigma to it, she said, where guardsmen are expected to “suck up, drive on and move forward.”

When members of the military do decide to seek treatment, it’s important that they’re met with health care workers who can understand their perspective, said Maggie Throckmorton, director of Special Projects for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities’ Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services.

“We want to make certain that when behavior and health providers interact with a service member for the first time, that they don’t lose that opportunity to connect for ongoing services simply because they come from an uninformed place,” said Throckmorton, who is also one of the event’s main organizer.

This is the third such boot camp in Tenessee. The first two camps attracted almost 100 participants each, and neither made much of a dent on the department’s budget because they were using existing personnel to organize and host the events, she said.

“We do it as inexpensively as possible,” said Throckmorton.

The program is hosted by a consortium of agencies, including the state Department of Mental Health and Development Disabilities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Tennessee National Guard and the Tennessee Veterans Task Force.