There is no doubt that this budget year will be difficult. Revenue is about $176 million less than expected; therefore, there will likely be cuts. However, the governor is working hard to put together his proposed budget, some of which was unveiled Monday night.
As always, there will be some changes through the legislative process and that is why I am so appreciative to hear from constituents on budget matters that are important to them. While it will certainly take a few days to digest everything covered in Gov. Bill Haslam’s “State of the State” address, here are a few of the ideas and issues discussed which I look forward to addressing in the coming weeks:
Services For The disabled:
Gov. Haslam will continue his record of strong support for the Department of Children’s Services and to those battling substance abuse issues. We are the first state in the nation to make support services available to 100 percent of our former foster youth as they transition to adulthood. Through our 41 drug courts across the state, we are working to treat substance abusers that want help in a way that is more productive than simply putting them behind bars and looking the other way.
Higher education/Drive To 55:
As part of the “Drive to 55” initiative, the governor has said he wants 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree or advanced certification by 2025. As discussed Monday, there are a few ways he hopes to reach that goal, including 1) expanding and encouraging dual enrollment for students across the state; and 2) expanding the state’s Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (SAILS) program to give students who need support in math that extra attention during their senior year in high school so they can avoid remediation when they enter college.
The governor has attempted to work with the federal government to implement a "Tennessee Plan" regarding Medicaid expansion, but has gotten no cooperation from the feds so far. As we have seen in multiple case studies, expanding Medicaid to the limits proposed under ObamaCare will cost our state billions of dollars in the long run. Tennesseans having health care is good for our state. Our concern is that the federal government isn’t giving us the tools to do that in a cost-effective way or in a way that will ultimately impact the health of Tennesseans for the better.
Tennessee Promise is a new initiative unveiled Monday that I am very excited about and that is also a part of “Drive to 55.” Tennessee Promise is an ongoing commitment to every student — from every kindergartner to every high school senior. Our promise is that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free. If students then choose to go on to a four-year school, our transfer pathways program makes it possible for those students to start as a junior. By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is cut in half.
As the governor said Monday, in our state we know our strengths and we are certainly not afraid to address our challenges head on. As our state motto says, in Tennessee, we truly are “America at its best.”