General Assembly Hears State Of The State Address
Governor unveils 2017 budget proposal
Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State Address to a joint convention of the legislature this week, unveiling his budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Haslam addressed multiple issues during the State of the State, the most prominent of which include job recruitment and infrastructure investments, bolstering the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a continued push to make government more efficient and effective, and major contributions in both K-12 and higher education.
Haslam’s $37 billion balanced budget proposal builds up state reserves, puts Tennessee on the path to catch up on long-deferred maintenance of buildings, and reinvests in the state workforce. For a second year in a row, and the second year in Tennessee recorded history, the state budget does not take on any new debt.
As Washington, D.C. and other states are mired in partisan gridlock, the Governor emphasized that Tennessee has made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a top leader in the country on jobs.
A large portion of the Governor’s speech revolved around his IMPROVE Act — the “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy” Act. The comprehensive infrastructure funding plan includes an increase in state gas taxes and tax cuts in other areas of government. The goal of the plan is to create a reliable source of funding that is capable of meeting the demands of new road construction across the state, as well as cutting down on the reported $10.1 billion backlog of road projects currently on the state’s books.
Some House Republicans have offered alternative plans to the Governor’s IMPROVE proposal, including one plan from State Representative David Hawk (R–Greeneville) which would create a reliable source of funding for transportation using existing state revenues and without raising taxes on Tennesseans.
Another prominent portion of Governor Haslam’s State of the State address focused on his proposal to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers.
If the Tennessee Reconnect Act is approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.
As a counterpart measure, the Governor also unveiled the Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, establishing a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.
Other notable investments from the Governor’s budget proposal include:
- $200 million to fund the Basic Education Program (BEP), including
- $100 million for teacher salaries and
- $22 million for English Language Learners
- $77 million for state employee pay increases and market rate adjustments targeting high-turnover positions in state government;
- $132 million to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to an all-time high of $800 million, well on the way to the statutory guideline of $1 billion;
- $655 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education;
- $135 million transferred from the General Fund to pay back the Highway Fund;
- $78 million for higher education and the Complete College Act;
- $15 million for career and technology education equipment;
- $21 million to fund recommendations from the Rural Task Force;
- $11.6 million to fund more than 700 additional slots in the Employment and Community First CHOICES program; and
- $9.5 million combined to expand substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and supports.
The complete text of the Governor’s speech, an archived video of his speech, and budget documents can be accessed by visiting http://tn.gov/governor/topic/state-of-the-state.
House Speaker Beth Harwell Creates Legislative Task Force On Opioid Abuse
This week in Nashville, House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) created a task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse. The task force’s immediate goal will be to work on legislation, but its efforts will be ongoing to determine the best strategies for tackling the opioid epidemic. Tennessee is consistently ranked at the top of the charts nationally with regards to prescription drug abuse.
In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in the state’s history. In addition, the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15 fold.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.
Speaker Harwell has asked Taskforce members to work toward legislation that can be filed this year, as well as working collaboratively with other members who have legislation on the topic.
Tennessee Leads Nation In Small Business Job Growth
According to a report this week by Paychex – one of the nation’s largest payroll processors – Tennessee was the number 1 state for small business employment growth in January, rising over 4% last month. Paychex processes about one of every 11 employee paychecks in the United States.
Cited in the jump to number 1 were the success of startup ventures and the businesses supplying major manufacturers in Tennessee, especially carmakers, including GM, Nissan, and Volkswagen.
The Paychex index each month analyzes and tracks small business employment trends using payroll data from the Paychex client base of more than 350,000 employers across the country.