Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2016 State of the State Address: What You Need to Know
On Feb. 1, Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his 2016 State of the State and Budget Address before a joint session of the 109th General Assembly. It was his sixth time giving his address, meaning only two more before his tenure as governor of Tennessee comes to a close.
“For me, these speeches serve as milestones, status updates on the state of Tennessee, and as a reminder of why we are here,” he said.
He started the address by explaining the importance of state government, stating that every single day Tennessee citizens count on the state to help educate their children, provide safe roads and bridges, establish critical mental health services, and give them a better hope for tomorrow.
“For some people, usually our most vulnerable citizens, an effective state government is their best hope for help amidst life’s struggles,” he said. “Tennesseans count on us to keep them safe and to provide economic opportunity for their family and so many other things”
Gov. Haslam then went on to emphasize some of Tennessee’s accomplishments and milestones, as well as opportunities for the future and how his proposed budget supports them. Here’s what you need to know from his address:
Economy & Finances
The financial condition of Tennessee is in a much better state than it has been in years. More Tennesseans have a job than at any point in the state’s history, and Gov. Haslam’s administration has cut nearly $500 million in recurring expenses. He has truly been practicing a philosophy of not spending money simply because it’s there.
On top of that, the sales tax has gone down, the Hall tax has been cut, and the estate and gift taxes have been eliminated. There’s also been more than $225 million in recurring tax reductions since 2011. Tennessee has the lowest debt per capita of any other state, and the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” is 2.5 times more than when the Haslam administration began. At the end of this fiscal year, the fund is estimated to have $568 million. The proposed budget asks for another $100 million, which would bring it up to an amount that hasn’t been seen since before the recession.
“When people talk about conservative government, that’s it in a nutshell,” he said. “We’re using tax payer’s money like we would use our own. We’re holding in the reins during good times so we’re prepared during the bad times.”
Higher education and K-12 education remain a top priority for the state, as they lay a strong foundation for Tennessee’s future workforce. Gov. Haslam’s most recent education initiatives, Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, resulted in a 25 percent increase in first-time freshmen enrollment in community colleges, as well as a 20 percent increase at Tennessee colleges of applied technology. This fall, more than 16,000 students enrolled under Tennessee Promise and 5,000 more are attending TCAT’s through Tennessee Reconnect.
Both of these initiatives are part of Gov. Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort, intended to ensure 55 percent of Tennessee’s population has a college degree or certificate by 2025. Currently, the state is at 37 percent. The proposed budget asks for $20 million for the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund.
“If you compare the incomes of someone with a degree or certificate to someone who doesn’t have one, moving our population to 55 percent would mean $9 billion in additional income for Tennesseans,” Haslam explained.
Gov. Haslam’s proposed budget also includes the largest investment in K-12 education in the state’s history without a tax increase. This would increase teacher salaries and create a network of literacy coaches to combat low reading test scores.
He said, “We are a system that is committed to the basic premise that all children should have access to a quality public education regardless of zip code, and we are shrinking the achievement gap for historically underserved and low-income students.”
- Gov. Haslam’s proposed budget calls for $60 million for state employee salary increases.
- The budget proposes using $232 million to fix facilities across the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Board of Regents, and General State Government.
- Investing more in drug recovery courts and funding additional veterans’ courts will help provide alternatives to the revolving door of incarceration, as 80 percent of participants in Tennessee’s drug recovery courts in the last two years have landed a job or secured a better job.
- Halsam’s proposal requests funding for homeland security upgrades for the Military Department, as a result of the tragedy in Chattanooga this past July.
- Through efforts at TDOT, highway fatalities are down 18.5 percent from its 50-year average.
- There have been 288,000 net new private sector jobs created in the last five years, putting Tennessee in the top 10 in net new growth among the 50 states.
“The reality is that the state of our state is one of unique opportunity, an opportunity that must not go to waste,” Haslam assured the crowd.