Haslam addressed multiple issues, the most prominent of which include education, with a salary increase for teachers and investments in both K-12 and higher education, lowering taxes, a focus on service, and a continued push to make government more efficient and effective.
House lawmakers will now spend the next several weeks digesting the governor’s proposal and will offer their own tweaks to the plan through the legislative committee process. As Washington, D.C. and other states are mired in partisan gridlock with out-of-control spending, the governor emphasized that Tennessee has made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a nationwide leader in job creation and educational advancement.
Building on the success of legislation passed over the last several months, Gov. Haslam’s $32.6 billion balanced budget is 2 percent lower than the current fiscal year’s appropriation, showcasing the commitment by House lawmakers to create a more lean and efficient state government.
In addition, the proposed plan includes:
- $1.7 million budgeted to fund a new statewide residential drug court in Middle Tennessee;
- $6.4 million for new child protective services and case manager positions as well as other critical children’s services including foster care and adoption assistance;
- A $7 million increase for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens;
- $61 million in Fast Track Infrastructure and Job Training program funding to support current and new state businesses; and
- A $40.3 million contribution to the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing the total fund balance to $496 million.
K-12 and higher
A large portion of the “State of the State” address was committed to improving education, an issue that both the governor and House legislators have made a priority.
In education, the budget proposal calls for:
- 100 percent funding for the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) formula;
- A $63 million investment to increase the salaries of teachers statewide as part of the ongoing effort to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in terms of paying teachers more;
- $36.7 million to fund a new Williamson County campus for Columbia State Community College;
- $28.7 million to fund a new classroom building at Volunteer State Community College; and
- $63 million for capital maintenance projects at institutions across the state.
In addition to these education items, Gov. Haslam also announced several strategic proposals to help facilitate the state’s “Drive to 55” plan, an initiative unveiled in 2013 which seeks to increase the number of Tennesseans that have earned an associate’s degree or higher from 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025 to ensure Tennessee has the best-trained workforce in America.
of Integrated Learning
The first of the new “Drive to 55” proposals includes a statewide expansion of the Seamless Alignment of Integrated Learning (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. Currently, 70 percent of high school graduates need some sort of remedial courses before being able to take college level classes.
Second, Gov. Haslam hopes to expand the state’s dual enrollment program by offering one dual enrollment course to high school students at no cost and with the ability to continue dual enrollment at discounted pricing after that. Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college credit courses, and statistics show a 94 percent probability that those students will then go on to college.
One of the most prominent proposals during the “State of the State” was the announcement of the Tennessee Promise, an ongoing commitment to every student in the state that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free.
The proposal, which drew bipartisan applause during the speech, would make Tennessee the first state in the entire nation to offer such a program. Following two free years of schooling, if a student then chooses to go on to a four-year school, the state’s transfer pathways program makes it possible for that student to start as a junior. By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is cut in half.
In addition, the cost of the Tennessee Promise program itself will be paid for through a strategic transfer from the Lottery reserve into an endowment fund with absolutely no cost to the state or taxpayers.
Other budget highlights
Following multiple tax cuts that were passed by lawmakers during the 107th session of the General Assembly and the first half of the 108th General Assembly, the governor’s budget this year includes funding to facilitate the next step of doing away with the state’s death tax. This proposal builds on last year’s tax cuts that included a further reduction of the sales tax on groceries to a flat 5 percent, a cut to the Hall Tax, and fully funding the property tax relief program to help low-income seniors, veterans and the disabled.
Other budget highlights include:
- Appointment of a new director of Workforce Alignment who will work with state departments and local officials;
- Expansion of the Degree Compass program that predicts the subjects and majors in which students will be most successful. The program was pioneered at Austin Peay University and is modeled after companies like Netflix, Amazon and Pandora that tailor their recommendations to what their customers are looking for;
- $6 million for a statewide tourism fund to support the work of the tourism commission; and
- $10 million set aside for workforce alignment grants to local communities that have strategic plans in place to connect education institutions with employers.
The full text of the governor’s “State of the State” address, as well as video of the actual event, can be found by visiting www.tn.gov/stateofthestate.
House bill limit rule
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R–Nashville, announced that the number of bills filed this year has been drastically reduced due to a legislative reform package implemented last year designed to streamline operations and make the legislative process more efficient. With the bill filing deadline having passed last Wednesday, records show a 36 percent decrease in legislation.
“This is excellent news, and proof the bill limit is working,” Hardwell said. “Our goal was to reduce the amount of bills filed to save taxpayer money, and to have members focus on prioritizing their issues so we can properly vet the legislation before us. I strongly believe good government is not defined by making more laws, and this reduction in legislation bodes well for Tennessee taxpayers.”
Bill filings this year came in at 2,497 and are at the lowest in nearly 30 years. In 1986, the 94th General Assembly, there were 2,077 pieces of legislation filed by the deadline. Filed legislation in the 105th General Assembly hit one of the highest marks, with 4,274 proposals filed. This year’s number is 42 percent below that high mark. The bill filing deadline is on the 10th legislative day according to House rules, usually falling in early February.
A pro-military bill backed by lawmakers from across the state passed the House of Representatives last week with unanimous support from both parties.
The bill, aimed at helping Tennessee students who enlist in the military while still in school, now awaits a signature from the governor before officially becoming law.
The legislation specifies that if a high school student enlists in the United States military or National Guard program and completes basic training before graduation, that student is eligible to receive school credit toward graduation. The credit may be used to meet the state’s physical education and wellness requirement, plus credit for another elective course or used for credit in two elective courses of the student’s choosing.
The goal of the legislation is to reward those hardworking young patriots who have completed basic training in our nation’s military while still in high school.
The bill passed the House, 98-0.