Blount County’s state legislative delegation praised Gov. Bill Haslam on his first State of the State address and said Tennessee’s new chief executive officer will lead in the right direction.
State Sen. Doug Overbey that overall he was impressed by Haslam’s grasp on the issues facing the state, with a particular emphasis on Tennessee’s current financial constraints.
Overbey said the governor understands that citizens don’t want new taxes but instead, they want state government to tighten its fiscal belt.
“Citizens across this state are hurting financially. Therefore, the takeaway is your state government is going to spend less and work harder to address concerns,” Overbey said. “I think the Number One concern is jobs.”
Overbey said Haslam did a top-to-bottom review of the Department of Economic and Community Development in an effort to make sure it is fulfilling its mission of helping businesses across the state to create jobs. “There’s particular emphasis on small business because that is where most folks are employed,” he said.
District 20 State Rep. Bob Ramsey said Haslam was very realistic. “He said that the time of sacrifice was not temporary,” Ramsey said. “He said he expects that there would be somewhere around 1,100 jobs not filled on the state level. He also wanted a salary increase for state employees.”
Ramsey said the governor also was very complimentary about the efforts of the state’s teachers. “One of his recurring message was how important education is to the future of Tennessee and how important good teachers are and how he was trying hard to reassure teachers we value their service.”
Ramsey said Haslam wants lottery funds to be able to go toward summer college tuition, a move that hasn’t been done in the past. The governor’s budget also allowed funds for capital maintenance at institutions of higher education, he said.
“All in all, it was a very thorough look at what we needed for the future. Overall I was very encouraged by his presentation and the content,” Ramsey said. “It was also encouraging for business. He had several programs for industrial investments in the State of Tennessee, and he regarded tourism as one of our most important focuses,”
District 8 State Rep. Art Swann said he appreciated the tone Haslam set in his state of the state address.
“He talked about how our current financial constraints are not temporary and that this is the new reality and the new normal for government, and we better get used to it,” Swann said. “He said the big change in this past election cycle was the change in status quo. None of us were elected to hang on to the old status quo, and citizens expect us to educate our children, encourage our teachers and create more jobs and to do it now.”
Swann said Haslam was very concise in what he had to say. “He was very pointed in that he set a tone that is good for all us, Democrats and Republicans both,” Swann said. “I think he has proved he’s a good leader right out of the box, and I think he’s going to work well with the legislature.”
In his address, Haslam called upon legislators and other state officials to join him in transforming how government sets priorities and makes choices.
“Ten years from now we will not - and cannot - be doing government the same way we did 20 years ago,” Haslam said. “The time is right to go on a rigorous diet that consumes less and exerts more energy.”
Last year’s state budget totaled $32 billion, and Haslam delivered a $30.2 billion budget proposal to state legislators, a proposal making tough choices with a $1.4 billion budget gap to fill.
The proposal puts money back into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, gives state employees a raise and focuses reductions on administrative areas rather than direct services to minimize any impact felt by Tennessee taxpayers.
“State government does a lot of good things,” Haslam said. “We have worked hard to try and continue funding many of those things. The reality is that there are a lot of things I would like to do, that each member of the Legislature would like to do, but that we simply cannot afford.”
Haslam said every discussion about education should always begin and end with what is best for the child in the classroom.
“In education, we are blessed with the tools to be game-changers for all students,” he added. “Better teachers, improved school leadership with great principals, standards of academic excellence, parental involvement and students who are challenged to learn - that can and will happen in Tennessee. If we strive to be more, we will achieve much more.”