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.”


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


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.

Education NewsTracker

Haslam Plan For Community College Prompts Questions

A plan by Gov. Bill Haslam to pay for two years of community college for Tennessee students has been met with questions over its potential costs and criticism that it erodes a successful scholarship program.

Haslam proposes to pay for the program, called Tennessee Promise, by setting up a $300 million endowment with lottery funds and reducing the amount freshmen and sophomores receive from the HOPE scholarship, from $4,000, to $3,000, while increasing the amount to $5,000 in the final two years of college.

In unveiling the program during his State of the State address, Haslam described it as “a bold promise” and said it would be the only such state program in the country.

“We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee,” Haslam said.

This year, in-state tuition and fees at UT Knoxville total $11,200 per year, not including housing. That’s about a fifth of the median family income in Tennessee, $54,700.

Under Haslam’s proposal, a student could enroll for two years at a community college courtesy of state taxpayers, then transfer and finish up a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school. The idea would be to make a four-year education less costly while giving students the same piece of paper from the same school.

The bill, filed last week, calls for proceeds above $10 million in the lottery fund to be transferred to a new endowment, with the earnings used to pay for the program. Presumably, the endowment could not be raided to pay for other lawmaker wish lists, but the Legislature would do well to make sure the purpose of any new fund is locked down tight.

A lawmaker who helped craft the state’s lottery scholarships has come out against the plan. Congressman Steve Cohen told the Tennessean that “high-achieving students beginning four-year degree programs” will end up with less money.

Questions remain, though. A recent WPLN story explored whether the funding mechanism is sound. Budget crunchers will have to predict the future costs of the program, the potential demand by parents and students, as well as the estimated savings from restructuring the lottery scholarship.

It’s also not known what effect a new incentive to head to community college would have on the costs at four-year schools in the state. With fewer freshmen and sophomores in lecture halls, would schools respond by trying to raise their fees faster than they would have otherwise?

The Chattanooga Times Free Press pointed out out that the lottery program itself ended up paying for less of the total cost of attending school over time:

At its peak, the maximum HOPE award covered about three-quarters of the average price of tuition and fees at public universities and community colleges in 2006-07. In 2012-13, the maximum HOPE award barely covered half of the average cost, according to a 2013 Tennessee Higher Education Commission report.

Haslam’s bill would incentivize scholarship students at the state’s four-year schools to finish on time.

Current law allows students to receive a HOPE scholarship until earning a bachelor’s degree or earning the number of semester hours for the degree — with funding also cut off five years after enrollment. The Haslam bill would cut off lottery scholarship funds at either 120 semester hours (15 hours per semester for four years) or completion of eight full-time semesters, whichever comes later. The bill would keep in place the five-year cutoff.

The Promise program follows other efforts by the Haslam administration to expand access to higher education, including a nonprofit, online college aimed at working adults and priced at $2,890 per full-time, six-month term.

Press Releases

TEA: Haslam Voucher Agenda Sends ‘Mixed Message’

Press release from the Tennessee Education Association; January 29, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In his “State of the State” speech last night before Tennessee’s General Assembly, Governor Bill Haslam devoted a lot of time to public education, but left the audience with a mixed message on his plans for our schools.

“While I am pleased that the governor devoted such a large portion of his address to public education, it is troubling to see his voucher agenda moving forward,” said Gera Summerford, Sevier County teacher and Tennessee Education Association president. “Gov. Haslam spoke emphatically about his commitment to public education. Then his next point was about taking money from our public schools to give to private schools. To me, that sends a very mixed message.”

“School voucher programs divert critical funding from public schools.”

Tennessee public schools have among the top graduation rates in the country and, at the same time, one of the lowest rates of funding per student, thereby demonstrating their efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars. On the other hand, school voucher programs in other states have wasted taxpayer money by supporting substandard and unaccredited programs due to inadequate oversight.

“No credible study or research has ever proven the effectiveness of school vouchers or demonstrated any improvement in student achievement over public schools,” added Summerford.

“In addition to the financial drain, school vouchers leave many students behind – including those with greatest need – because vouchers divert tax dollars to private entities that are not required to accept all students nor offer the special services students may need,” the TEA president continued. “In the more than 50 years since school vouchers were first proposed, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven and unpopular.”

“We applaud the governor’s continued effort to direct more money to public schools, but let’s not take one step forward and two steps back. It is not the taxpayer’s job to support private entities. Let’s keep public money in public schools, supporting initiatives like the governor’s proposal to update technology and improve school safety,” Summerford concluded.

Press Releases

Devaney: TN Should ‘Take Pride’ in Haslam, ‘Reformer-in-Chief’

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; January 28, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—With a joint session of the General Assembly hosting him, Governor Bill Haslam today delivered the annual State of the State address to an audience of lawmakers, citizens, and members of the media.

The speech outlined the numerous successes of the first two years of the Haslam Administration and provided a preview of the top priorities for the Governor as the new legislative session gets underway.

Among the highlights:

  • Tennessee’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in five years;
  • A continued focus on strengthening education because every child deserves access to a high quality education in Tennessee;
  • Streamlining state government to ensure a customer-focused approach is at the heart of all services.

Following the address, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney stated, “Once again, Governor Haslam has shown he is a gifted reformer-in-chief who understands the concerns of Tennesseans right now. As you go around the state, people are talking about job opportunities, education reform, and limiting government. The Governor hit on all those points and presented a clear vision for achievement here in Tennessee.”

In his first two years as Governor, Haslam has presided over a litany of impressive conservative victories:

  • Cut wasteful spending from the state budget, ensuring more efficient use of taxpayer dollars;
  • Cut taxes for all Tennesseans, including the death tax, Hall tax, and grocery tax.
  • Conducted a top-to-bottom review of all executive departments to find areas of waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Significant education reforms that place a priority on student achievement and teacher excellence
  • Protected the health care rights of Tennesseans by rejecting the implementation of an ObamaCare health insurance exchange.

“70 percent of citizens approve of the work Governor Haslam has done,” remarked Devaney. “After tonight, I believe 100 percent of the state can take pride in the man who is leading Tennessee.”

Press Releases

Haslam Outlines Legislative Priorities for 2013

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; January 29, 2013: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced his priorities for the 2013 legislative session, building on momentum from his past proposals focused on attracting and growing Tennessee jobs, pursuing meaningful education reform, managing an efficient and effective state government, and strengthening public safety.

“In working together over the past two years with the Legislature, we’ve accomplished a lot for the people of Tennessee, and I look forward to working with the 108th General Assembly in the same way,” Haslam said. “Our proposals represent our top priorities of making Tennessee the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs, continuing to improve education, being the best managed state in the country, and keeping our citizens safe.”

The governor’s legislation:

  • Strengthens the state’s attractive business climate through the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Improvement Act by reforming worker’s compensation laws to simplify the process and to make it more equitable for both the employer and employee. Additional details here.
  • Completes the governor’s two-year plan to cut the state’s portion of the sales tax on food and groceries from 5.5 percent by taking the last step and reducing the sales tax from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, a reduction that affects every Tennessean. Additional details here.
  • Establishes WGU-Tennessee, an online competency-based program with curriculum geared toward the 800,000 adult Tennesseans with some college credit but no degree. The program also emphasizes mentors who guide these adult students through the academic process. Additional details here.
  • Rewrites and simplifies the Criminal Gang Enhancement statute by clarifying the definition of “criminal gang offense” and creating a list of specific offenses considered criminal gang offenses. Additional details here.
  • Gives Tennessee parents another option for school choice through a program that allows students in the lowest income brackets in the lowest performing schools to attend other schools. Additional details here.
  • Encourages college accessibility by creating an endowment to provide need-based, “last dollar” scholarships or grants to Tennesseans pursuing a degree from a postsecondary institution. Additional details here.
  • Reduces the Hall Income Tax burden on seniors for the second time since 2011 by exempting single filers with a total annual income of $33,000 or less and joint filers with either a spouse 65 years or older and having total annual income of $59,000 or less. Additional details here.

“We’re proposing to cut taxes further, address college affordability and encourage degree attainment, improve the environment for job creation and make Tennesseans safer,” Haslam said. “Tennessee is different. We’re not like Washington or other states because we work together to get things done for Tennesseans, and we’ll continue to focus on the things that matter most to Tennesseans.”

The governor will also strongly support SJR 2/HJR 8 regarding judicial selection, which is up for two-thirds vote this year in the General Assembly.

The Haslam administration has filed a total of 59 non-budget related bills, but the above pieces of legislation represent the governor’s priorities.

Press Releases

Text of Gov. Haslam’s 2013 ‘State of State’ Address

From the Office of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Jan. 28, 2013:

State of the State Address of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam “Why Tennessee is Different” January 28, 2013:

Lt. Gov. Ramsey, Speaker Harwell, Speaker Pro Tem Watson, Speaker Pro Tem Johnson, Members of the 108th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, Commissioners, friends, guests, fellow Tennesseans, and always my favorite First Lady, Crissy:

Every day, I feel honored and blessed to have the opportunity to serve as governor of this great state, and I particularly appreciate the invitation by the 108th General Assembly tonight to report on the state of our State.

I’ll begin with something we all know – Tennessee is different. We’re known as the Volunteer State. We have a history of independence and service. Over the years, we’ve been intentional about avoiding the traps that Washington, D.C. and other states have fallen into that have gotten them in trouble time and time again.

Unlike the news coming out of our nation’s capital and so many other states around the country, good things are happening in Tennessee. Barron’s Magazine has named us the third best- managed state in the country. We are ranked among the lowest when it comes to the state and local tax burden on our citizens as well as the debt per capita. We are a triple-A rated state, and our most recent bond sale was done at the lowest interest rates in recorded history. The unemployment rate continues to fall, and family incomes continue to rise. CNBC ranks us 4th in America for transportation and infrastructure and 2nd in cost of living. And we’ve been ranked the best place in the country to retire. Tennesseans are some of the most generous in the United States – we rank 4th in charitable giving.

So what makes Tennessee different? Why are we coming out of one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen in a place of strength? I believe it’s because we think differently. We have a long history of fiscal restraint that crosses party lines. We have been deliberate about not spending money that we don’t have and in making a concerted effort to save for the future. A good example was last year when there was temptation for some to quickly commit and spend funds that were coming in above estimates, but in the tradition of our state’s discretion, we held the line. And now we are well-positioned to continue to invest in a thoughtful, strategic manner.

Unlike Congress, this body is willing to make hard decisions. You’ve voted to cut the budget; you’ve voted to make key investments; and you’ve voted to set reserves aside for the future. You’ve also given Tennesseans their money back by cutting taxes, and you’ve given the executive branch the necessary tools to run government better.

We are committed to transforming state government so that our customers, Tennessee’s taxpayers, are the primary focus. A good example is our driver’s license centers. The budget I’m proposing tonight contains funding to put more resources toward lowering wait times across the state.

Two years ago, I stood up here and said that we would be working hard to speed up the process to receive a license, and we’re making progress. At the Fayette County center, wait times went from an average of 38 minutes in 2011, to 30 minutes in 2012, and only 18 minutes in the month of December. Tonight, I’d like you to meet Patsy Echols, the manager of that center, named Center of the Year for 2012. Patsy, thanks to you and your team for giving our customers – Tennessee’s taxpayers – great service.

In Tennessee, we are different. We have a lot to brag about, but this isn’t the time to coast along or to be satisfied. This is a time to take advantage of our strengths and face our challenges head on, and I look forward to the executive and legislative branches working together on the issues that matter to Tennesseans.

I believe we have to begin this evening by addressing the elephant in the room – or I guess I should say the elephants in the room. There are a lot of expectations and preconceived notions about how our Republican supermajority is going to govern. There is a narrative already being written for us this legislative session: Republicans will be fighting internally, and Democrats will be focused solely on playing politics instead of working across the aisle to find common ground for good government. But I think that makes caricatures out of us and sells all of us short.

We’re not always going to agree on what good policy is, and the way democracy works is that people in this room were elected for different reasons and often times because of specific issues, but can’t we all agree that in the end, the focus should be and will be on a better Tennessee?

Howard Baker, a senior statesman from Tennessee who served as Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate and chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan always says, anytime he was sitting across the desk from someone in disagreement, he told himself to keep in mind, “You know – the other fellow might be right.”
As we go through this legislative session, I ask everyone in this chamber this evening to keep in mind what Senator Baker said: “The other fellow might be right.” Tennesseans don’t want us to be like Washington. They don’t want continuous conflict. They do want principled problem solving.

Over the past two years, we’ve made a lot of progress in working together. We balanced two budgets in tough economic times with less funding from the federal government, which by the way I believe is a good thing. It’s critical that Washington gets serious about getting our country’s financial house in order. And in Tennessee, we’re prepared to manage state government accordingly.

In talking about the budget, it’s also important to talk about what we did not do to balance the budget the past two years. We didn’t raise taxes. In fact, we lowered them. We cut the state portion of the sales tax on food from five and a half percent to five and a quarter percent, and we’re proposing to lower it to five percent this year. We’re phasing out the inheritance tax, eliminating it entirely by the year 2016 to help small business owners and family farmers keep those businesses in the family from generation to generation. We’ve eliminated the gift tax, and in 2011, we reduced the burden of the Hall Income Tax on seniors.

We are proposing to cut the Hall tax even further this year by raising the exemption level for people over 65 from $26,000 to $33,000 for individuals and $37,000 to $59,000 for joint filers. We are also providing tax relief for low-income seniors, veterans and the disabled by fully funding the growth of the property tax relief program.

Another important thing we did not do to balance the budget was to cut education funding. Not only did we not cut funding, we had the second largest increase in state K-12 expenditures of all 50 states in fiscal year 2012. I’m not sure that Tennessee has ever been able to say that before. The average increase was nearly 3 percent. Ours grew almost 12 percent in state education funding. Education is another example of how in Tennessee we’re distinguishing ourselves as different from the rest of the country.

Some have said that this administration and General Assembly aren’t committed to public education, but that could not be further from the truth. We are literally putting our money where our mouth is, even when other states haven’t done so through tough budget times. This administration is absolutely committed to public education and understands that the large majority of our students attend public schools and always will.

That’s why we’ve fully funded the Basic Education Program the past two years and are doing so again this year. That’s why tonight I’m announcing that we will invest $51 million to assist locals in paying for technology transition upgrades in schools across the state – a substantial and strategic investment in our schools. Another $34 million is budgeted to address ongoing capital needs that can be used for increased security measures if local officials decide to do so. And more than $35 million is budgeted for teacher salaries. We’re also providing $22 million for a new high school for the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville.

Our administration’s three budgets have certainly supported our commitment to public education, but I also think it’s important to note that we’re not just throwing money at it. Dollars alone don’t lead to improvement. There has to be a plan. Along with strategic investments, we’re pursuing real reform in education that is producing results.

We’ve addressed tenure so that a principal doesn’t have to decide after three years to either fire a teacher or grant tenure. There is now a five year time period for the principal to use data more effectively to assess a teacher’s performance and then allow time to give that teacher the additional support that he or she needs to improve to earn tenure.

We’ve expanded charter schools to eliminate the cap on the number that we can have in Tennessee and to offer more students the opportunity to attend a charter school.

This year we’re proposing to offer another option for school choice through a program to allow low-income students in our lowest performing schools a chance to receive a better education. I’ve heard the argument that this kind of program will drain resources in the schools that need them the most, but we’re focusing resources on those schools. Last year, we committed $38 million over three years to schools in the bottom 5 percent of the state. This year we’re adding $9 million more. So we’re investing $47 million, over and above annual funding, to those schools to help them improve. Not only are we not draining resources from them, we’re giving them additional support.

I expect this proposal will be hotly debated, but after taking a careful look at the issue and how a program might work in Tennessee, I believe a limited approach that gives more choice to parents and students stuck in difficult situations makes a lot of sense. If we can help our lowest income students in our lowest performing schools, why wouldn’t we?

To us education should be first and foremost about our students, it’s not about systems. And in the end we know that all of the money or education reforms in the world aren’t ultimately what impact the education of our children. It is the great teacher that stands before a classroom every day and commits to making sure the children in his or her classroom are learning.

It hasn’t always been easy as we’ve moved to higher standards of accountability. But shouldn’t we all – parents, educators, legislators, and the governor – be accountable when something as important as our children’s future is at stake?

In Tennessee, 55,000 more students are proficient or advanced in 3rd through 8th grade math than they were two years ago. There are 38,000 more students that are proficient or advanced in science. Tennessee is one of only two states making double-digit gains in high school graduation rates, and we saw the largest aggregate gains ever in our TCAP testing scores last year.

Tonight, I’d like for you to meet one of the many teachers across the state on the front lines of making this happen. Hope Malone is a 5th grade teacher at Avoca Elementary School in Bristol. She is a reward school ambassador that will spend this year sharing best teaching practices with other teachers and schools across the state. After moving from teaching 2nd grade to 5th grade several years ago, she had a tough adjustment period. She pursued technical assistance and grew to become a level 5 teacher – the highest rating in our evaluation system – in two years. Hope, thank you for your commitment to your students and for your willingness to share what you’ve learned with others.

With the progress we’re seeing in K-12 education, the time is right to include post-secondary education in our focus. Over the past 30 years, Medicaid costs have continued to squeeze out other priorities, and higher education has been an area that has suffered as a result.

With repeated tuition increases year after year, we risk pricing middle class families out of the market for a college education. We must address cost. We have to make a college education more accessible, and we have to make sure that we have quality programs in Tennessee.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year learning all I can about these issues – on a national level and what’s happening here in Tennessee. These aren’t challenges that we’re going to solve overnight.

But like in K-12 education, Tennessee is getting attention on a national level for our efforts in higher ed. Last fall, Time Magazine highlighted our Complete College program as a model for other states. In the past, the state has provided funding for our colleges and universities based on enrollment. Today, we base funding on the number of students who are actually graduating. This shift puts the focus where it should be – on graduates. And because we’re seeing results, this year’s budget fully funds, for the first time, the Complete College Act outcomes formula.

The leaders of the Tennessee Board of Regents and UT system have pledged that because of this funding, they will limit tuition increases to no more than 6 percent at four-year schools and no more than 3 percent at two-year schools. That will provide relief to Tennessee families that have faced double digit tuition increases for too long.

But even with this progress, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Only 32 percent of Tennesseans have earned an associates’ degree or higher. That’s not good enough. Our goal is to move the needle so that Tennessee is on track to raise that number to 55 percent by 2025. Tonight we begin our “drive to 55” – a strategic initiative to have the best trained workforce in America.

To do that, we must improve affordability and access in higher education. To help us achieve this goal, we’re partnering with Western Governors University to establish “WGU Tennessee.” It is an online, competency-based university that is geared to the 800,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree. The program is unique because of its competency-based curriculum but also because of an emphasis on mentors who guide those adults through the academic process.

On the affordability front, we are proposing to establish an endowment of $35 million using operational reserve funds from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC). It is designed to provide nearly $2 million each year to support scholarships for “last dollar” scholarship programs such as tnAchieves. These scholarships fill the gaps between students’ financial aid and the real costs of college including books, supplies, room and board.

Last summer, I traveled the state visiting with employers and educators about ways we can do a better job of matching the skills we’re teaching our students with the real-life skills that employers are looking for to fill jobs. Out of those conversations, one thing I heard consistently is that our technology centers are having a lot of success. They’re graduating nearly 79 percent of their students, and close to 80 percent are getting jobs, and there are jobs available for the specific skills they’re preparing their students for in communities across the state. Their challenges are with capacity and equipment. To help them train more people to fill demand of Tennessee employers, $16.5 million are in the budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at our technology centers and community colleges.

We’re also funding a new technical education complex at Northeast State Community College in the Tri Cities that will be directly tied to advanced manufacturing in the region. The budget also allows for a much-needed multi-purpose classroom and lab building at Nashville State Community College as it continues to grow exponentially in Middle Tennessee.

Another constant theme we heard in our statewide discussions is that there is no substitute for direct and timely communication and cooperation between businesses and educational institutions. I am really excited about a new state-of-the-art technology center in Smyrna that represents a unique public-private partnership with Nissan. The center won’t only be committed to training employees to work at Nissan but will teach the skills that other area businesses need as well. This project is exactly what we need to be doing across the state to directly link Tennesseans to high quality jobs by being deliberate in providing relevant training for those jobs.

And there are other good things happening in Tennessee in this regard, such as, The Degree Compass program at Austin Peay University. This program is designed to predict the subjects and majors in which students will be most successful. The model combines hundreds of thousands of past students’ grades with current students’ transcripts to make an individualized recommendation. It’s inspired by companies like Netflix, Amazon and Pandora that tailor their recommendations to what their customers are looking for. That’s exactly what we should be doing. Helping our students find the subjects and skills that are avenues for success.

The Degree Compass system has gotten national attention. I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize Austin Peay Provost Dr. Tristan Denley for his innovation in developing this system. Thank you for being here and for your efforts on behalf of our students. We are continuing our commitment to put dollars toward strategic capital investments that have been on hold for far too long. We’re putting $60 million toward maintenance of our educational institutions across the state, and nearly $250 million is budgeted to fund key projects. Along with the technology center and community college projects I mentioned earlier, the budget includes nearly $45 million to build a new Community Health Facility at the University of Memphis for audiology, speech pathology and nursing.

The University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis will receive nearly $62 million to renovate a four building complex that will house research labs and administrative offices.
So by now it should be clear that education will continue to be on the front burner and that this administration is committed to public education. The reason is simple; to be the number one state in the Southeast for high quality jobs, we have to have a well-educated workforce to attract and fill those jobs. We want our state to be the place where our best and brightest want to earn their degrees and ultimately work, live and raise a family.

Since January 2011, nearly 80,000 new jobs have been created in Tennessee, and the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since October 2008. Tennessee ranks first in the Southeast in new manufacturing jobs created and first in the growth of manufacturing jobs in 2012. That’s good news, but it doesn’t mean we can take our foot off of the gas.

You’ve heard me say many times before that I don’t believe government creates jobs, but I do believe it’s our role to create an environment that encourages investment. Jobs are created when people are willing to risk capital. We want Tennessee to be as low of a risk as possible.

To provide certainty to businesses, we overhauled our tort laws. To build on those efforts, this year we’re proposing legislation to reform our worker’s compensation laws. During my first year in office, I held business roundtables across the state where we heard from businesses over and over that worker’s comp is an issue in Tennessee. We spent last year working with stakeholders to find ways to improve our system with a focus on fairness to both the employee and employer, and we believe the worker’s comp bill we’re proposing does just that.

There are a lot of reasons for people to come to our state. From blues on Beale Street to racing in Bristol; from Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, to Market Square in Knoxville, to the Chattanooga Aquarium, to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and thousands of places in between. In Tennessee, tourism equals jobs. We have unique and popular assets across the state, and it’s time that we do a better job of not only working to attract people to specific sites but to leverage our resources and have a strategic plan to market our state and tourist attractions. We are including $8 million for a statewide tourism fund to support the work of the tourism commission I appointed shortly after taking office. The industry is already working together in ways that have never happened before.
In everything we do, we look through the lens of delivering state services in the most efficient and effective way possible.

We’ve put a strong emphasis on customer service. As state employees, our job is to provide services to taxpayers that they can’t get on their own.

Through the TEAM Act, we tackled state government’s antiquated employment system and shifted our culture from an emphasis on seniority to a focus on performance. We’re allowing managers to recruit the best and brightest to serve in state government, and we’re establishing a merit-based pay system instead of only generic, across the board cost of living adjustments.

Now we’re taking the next step in our mission to attract and reward top-notch employees. We want to continue attracting employees like Dr. Marion Kainer, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health.
Dr. Kainer played a central role in identifying the cause of the nationwide meningitis outbreak and getting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involved. Dr. Kainer camped out in her Nashville office, and worked around the clock for weeks. She told ABC News back in November, “I brought in an exercise mat, with a pillow and a blanket and a change of clothes.”

Dr. Kainer, we’d like to thank you for your service to our state and to our nation during what was an extremely tense and scary time. Thank you.

And we know that Dr. Kainer wasn’t the only one sleeping in her office over those weeks. She represents a team of hundreds of Department of Health employees who were committed to understanding a complex situation with a lot of moving parts, and communicating quickly to patients, colleagues, other states, citizens and the media as appropriate. I think that they saved countless lives.
To help us attract and maintain the best and brightest employees throughout all levels of state government, we have to look at compensation. This year we are including an across the board pay raise for state employees of one and a half percent. We’ve also followed through on our commitment to conduct a salary survey to identify positions throughout state government where we’re not competing with the private sector. We’re including a total of nearly $60 million to address necessary salary adjustments resulting from the salary study.

Our employees deal with complex issues. As we raise the bar in terms of expectations, we also have to be ready to pay them more. As part of this process, the Treasurer has reminded us that the sustainability of our state pension plan has to be part of an overall review, so we will be working with him as we evaluate compensation and benefits.

I can stand up here all night and tell you what we’re accomplishing, but what I think really matters is that we’re measuring our results. Shortly after the State of the State last year, we unveiled a dashboard that tracks key indicators to measure how we’re doing compared to other states. While state government doesn’t directly impact all of the measures, we believe each one of them is an important benchmark to gauge the overall welfare of our citizens. Many of you know that I’m a runner and a bike rider. Although, one that’s getting a little bit older. I can always talk myself into thinking I’m as athletic as I used to be, but my watch tells me I’m not. It instantly holds me accountable. This is what the dashboard will do. You can find it on our state’s website at Yogi Berra said it best, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” It reminds me of when I coached pee wee T-ball. One of my five-year-olds made contact with the ball for the first time and ran straight to third base. That’s not where we want to be as a state.

When we talk about where we are going, one of the most critical drivers is the state budget. How we spend taxpayer dollars should clearly reflect our priorities. These days it is hard to tell what may or may not come out of Washington. The federal government is famous for creating a program and then withdrawing the funds years later, which leaves state governments on the hook. Our philosophy is that if the federal government decides to quit funding a program, then unless there is an exceptional reason, we will not continue to fund that program with state dollars.

There has to be serious thought given to how government provides services, and in Tennessee we’ve started that process. But it can’t be a matter of chipping away at the edges of business as usual or trimming back budgets.

A primary example is Medicaid. In this budget, TennCare costs will be 350 million dollars more this year than last year. That increase takes into account the higher cost of medical care, more people who qualify for Medicaid in tough economic times, and primarily, the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Expanding Medicaid is not reflected in this year’s budget. I am hesitant to commit additional dollars to Medicaid when it’s already eating up so much of our budget, and we have to remember what the state went through seven years ago when it made the difficult decision to cut a lot of people from the TennCare rolls.

We have to be very deliberate about making a decision to add that many and more back to the rolls, but I also understand that the decision isn’t just as easy as standing here today and saying, “We’re not going to expand Medicaid.” There are hospitals across this state, many of them in rural communities, that are going to struggle if not close under the health care law without expansion, and that’s not something to take lightly. Most of us in this room don’t like the Affordable Care Act, but the decision to expand Medicaid isn’t as basic as saying, “No ObamaCare, No expansion.”

I plan to gather all of the information possible to understand the impact on our budget, the impact on community hospitals, the impact on health care in Tennessee, and the impact on our citizens. This decision is too important not to do that.

As we talk about health care costs, we also have to talk about the health of our citizens. This year Tennessee ranked 39th in overall health compared to 41st in 2011, and we rank 35th in obesity, which is also an improvement, but not good enough. When we talk about Medicaid costs consuming so much of our budget, improving the health of our citizens isn’t only about their welfare but it’s also about dollars and cents. We are in the process of working with local communities and business leaders to figure out how we can better partner to encourage healthy lifestyles across the state.

We are also supporting a partnership project between the University of Tennessee’s Health Science Center in Memphis and St. Jude Hospital to recruit leading researchers from across the country to address critical issues such as childhood obesity. We expect to receive funds relating to the tobacco arbitration settlement, and we are proposing to designate those dollars for programs that address health concerns related to disease prevention and also to air, water and environmental concerns, such as replacing the University of Tennessee’s steam plant in Knoxville, one of the largest sources of pollution in Knox County.

Along with health care, other mandatory costs that often impact the state budget over a number of years are lawsuits. One of those lawsuits involves the Arlington Developmental Center in Memphis and has been ongoing for over 20 years. I am pleased to announce that the state has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the plaintiffs which was approved by the court just last week. Our budget includes $10 million for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to carry out the terms of the settlement agreement. Over the past two decades, this lawsuit has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. We are committed to care for Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens, and will continue to do so earnestly. I am grateful for Commissioner Jim Henry, the Attorney General’s Office and the TennCare Bureau for all of their efforts to accomplish this significant milestone in moving past this lawsuit.

We are spending $48 million in Corrections to compensate our local jails for housing more state prisoners. The department is working on a strategic plan to better predict and plan for our inmate population moving forward. These costs are another example of why our focus on education is crucial. The more educated our citizens are, the less problems we’ll have with crime.

The rankings vary, but Tennessee was either first or second in violent crime last year. That is not something we are proud of and something we have to change. Shortly after taking office, I appointed a working group to take a comprehensive look at public safety issues. The group came up with a multi-year action plan to address three main goals: significantly reducing drug abuse and drug trafficking; curbing violent crime; and cutting the rate of repeat offenders.

The plan resulted in legislation last year focused on prescription drug abuse, domestic violence offenders, and violent offenders. This year we are proposing legislation to clarify the definition of gang offenses in actually making a list of them instead of relying on a vague interpretation of the current law. We believe this will give law enforcement more tools to curb gang violence. And we still have work to do on fighting meth and prescription drug abuse.

As we continue to fight the prescription drug abuse epidemic we face in Tennessee, we have to attack it from as many fronts as possible. We have model drug court programs in this state that are working, so our budget includes funding to expand these programs.

We are also investing in crisis stabilization units. We were all shocked by the events last December in Connecticut, and seeing those young faces and the faces of the teachers who sacrificed so much was heart wrenching. In the aftermath there has been a lot of talk about guns and schools, which is valid, but I also think there needs to be a larger conversation about mental health issues, identifying warning signs and getting people the help they need. These tragedies are larger than schools or movie theaters, and we want to commit resources to areas that will make a difference.

While we talk a lot about education, jobs and efficient and effective government, we also realize it’s our job to provide vital services for those who can’t provide for themselves – often times our most vulnerable citizens. We don’t take that responsibility lightly. While we may have been elected on different issues and might focus on different missions, we all came to serve. I think we can all agree that caring for citizens who need it the most is a very important part of why we’re here.

The Department of Children’s Services will be upgrading nearly 200 case manager positions. This won’t just be a matter of paying current employees more but raising the qualifications for those positions. Children’s services deals with very difficult family situations, and we ask a lot of our caseworkers who are walking straight into these homes to protect Tennessee children. We should be paying them more, and we should also do a better job of setting them up for success by making sure they have the skills and experience it takes to do these emotional and difficult jobs. We are also putting more resources toward investigations and assessments in our Child Protective Services division.

Our military veterans have sacrificed more than most of us can ever begin to imagine. Veterans have more than earned our respect, gratitude and support. For those in this room that have served our country, I’d like to ask you to stand, so we can thank you for your service.

In continuing our commitment to a project we started last year, this budget includes more than $4 million for the Montgomery County veteran’s home.

Another responsibility we take seriously is the long term fiscal health of our state. We understand the importance of saving for the future.

In 2008, the state’s Rainy Day Fund was $750 million dollars. During the recession, it was taken down to $257 million. Working with the General Assembly, we’ve added nearly $100 million back to the fund over the two years we have been in office. I am proposing to put $100 million more into the Rainy Day Fund in this budget with the goal of ultimately reaching pre-recession levels. We’ve seen the realities of rainy days, and it is our responsibility to make sure the state is prepared for them in the future.

When dealing with serious issues that face our state, our approach is always going to be to put a lot of thought in getting to the right answer. Many times we’re dealing with a conflict between two conservative principles, or situations where the answer might seem easy on the face of it but can have unintended consequences. Having strong values and principles doesn’t preclude any of us from being deliberate and thoughtful.

For example, when it comes to judicial selection, it’s no secret that I am strongly opposed to partisan, contested elections. And since taking office, my experience has been that the judicial selection commission has done its job in providing quality candidates. So for me this issue isn’t about fixing something that isn’t working, but instead, it is about hearing legitimate concerns and providing clarity.

A resolution will be before you this session to amend our Constitution. The amendment will do three things. It will continue judicial appointments by the governor, and our process will still be based on merit; it will preserve retention elections; and it will give the Legislature a process to confirm the appointments. I believe this provides clarity for those who have concerns about our current process. I also believe that it makes sense to preserve the current process until the people have a chance to vote in 2014. Making changes in the meantime does nothing but confuse the situation further.

Tennessee is unique in so many ways. We have so much going for us, and we know what our weaknesses are. It is up to us to address those weaknesses; those issues that Tennesseans care about. People want good quality jobs. People want their children to have the best education possible, and as a state we should want the same for those kids. One day they’re going to be the ones that we hand the reins to. And taxpayers expect us to be good stewards of the taxes they pay.

People are disheartened by what happens – or it’s probably more accurate to say what doesn’t happen – in Washington. They’re tired of all the talk about the problems our nation faces with not many people trying to work together to find solutions. Tennessee is different in that regard, and we want to keep it that way. Here in Tennessee, we’re willing to make the tough decisions. We’re willing to put politics aside and really focus on what’s right for our state and citizens. That makes us different, and we shouldn’t lose sight of those unique qualities.

One of my favorite movies is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and one of the most memorable scenes is when Butch and Sundance are trapped at the edge of a cliff, high above a river, when the posse that’s been pursuing them for hundreds of miles catches up. Butch says, “Alright, I’ll jump first.” Sundance replies, “No.” “Then you jump first,” Butch says, but Sundance says, “No.” “What’s the matter with you?” Butch asks. “I can’t swim,” Sundance says. “Are you crazy,” Butch says, “The fall will probably kill you.”

Sundance was caught up in his own issues and missed the big picture. It’s our job to identify and focus on the real problems. We have this rare opportunity to make a difference. I know you feel like I do that every day we come to work in this building is a blessing and a privilege.

Let’s remember what makes Tennessee so special. It’s our responsibility to the citizens of this state to get it right, and this is our opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. That truly is service in the best meaning of the word.

Thank you and thanks for caring enough to give of yourself for a better Tennessee.

Business and Economy Education Liberty and Justice NewsTracker Tax and Budget

The Status of the State

In the packed chambers of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his second State of the State address Monday night before a joint session of the state General Assembly.

Many in there were armed with laptops, cell phones, and for most of the time, an internet connection.

Haslam’s speech focused on his budget proposals for the coming fiscal year, as well as legislative initiatives including cuts to the estate and grocery sales taxes, efforts to curtail violent crime and drug use and changes to the way the state’s hiring and employment practices. Throughout the 40 minute address, he aimed to outline an effective, efficient state government that he said should stand in contrast to gridlock in Washington.

Below is the story of the day in tweets, Facebook statuses and YouTube videos from people watching the speech in the Capitol and around Tennessee.

[View the story “The Status of the State ” on Storify]

Press Releases

Ramsey Says He, Haslam on Same Page

Statement from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey; Jan. 30, 2012:

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey released the following statement upon the conclusion of Gov. Haslam’s 2012 State of the State address:

“It is so refreshing to sit in the chamber and listen to a State of the State address given by a Republican governor who shares my fundamental views on government. Gov. Haslam has laid out an agenda that will give the people of Tennessee exactly what they have asked for — more jobs, less spending and smaller government. It is a continuing honor to be his partner in giving Tennesseans the efficient, responsive government they deserve.”

Press Releases

Senate Dems Hope Gov Talks About Unemployment, Education

Statement from Senate Democratic Caucus of Tennessee; Jan. 30,2012:

Tonight, Gov. Bill Haslam will deliver his State of the State address. Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus are hoping that the governor will spend this time discussing how we can help more than 270,000 Tennesseans find work and how we can ensure that every child gets a quality education.

Sen. Lowe Finney and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh have recorded a video on what Tennessee Democrats hope to hear from the governor tonight.

Tonight, we will hear that the “state of our state” is getting better because government is collecting more revenues than it has in several months. While this is good news, we cannot forget about those Tennesseans who have spent several months looking for work and trying to earn a paycheck.

Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus hope that the governor and members of the majority party will give these ideas consideration. It’s time for both parties to come together and start working to put Tennesseans back to work.