Republicans and Democrats lawmakers alike in Nashville appear poised for a tight fiscal year, and Gov. Bill Haslam said that despite proposing a budget that slashes $1.5 billion from spending, he isn’t getting significant push back from opponents.
Last Monday, Haslam delivered his first State-of-the-State address and presented his budget to a combined session of the Tennessee General Assembly. On Friday, the former Knoxville mayor held a conference call with reporters to discuss his proposed budget for the state.
“Early feedback has been good from Republicans and Democrats,” he said of House and Senate leadership from both political parties.
The governor said he hasn’t consistently heard one aspect of the budget where people are balking at cuts. “There is not a lot of push in one particular area,” he said. “I think there is consensus that the budget is on the right track.”
The governor said putting together this first budget was difficult because he and his team were on the job five weeks before they had to turn in their first budget. In addition, this new budget will be $1.5 billion less than the fiscal 2010-11 budget, Haslam said.
Haslam said most of this deficit comes from the fact that the state balanced the budget by using federal stimulus funds and money from the state’s “Rainy Day” fund.
“That really frames this budget,” he said. “We’ve made those hard choices, but we think we’ve made them in a wise and strategic way. We tried to limit cuts to more administrative end rather than in places that were providing direct services to our citizens.”
The governor said several folks have asked why he didn’t propose a large jobs legislative package. “I don’t think jobs are created in Nashville by legislators and the governor,” he said. “Jobs are created in the market when people are able to take advantage of low taxes and realistic regulations and choose to start or grow a business in this state and that is what our focus is going to be.”
Haslam said sustaining the educational reforms is key to retaining and growing jobs.
“We’re on a good path, and we’re becoming well-known across the country for changes to our education system. Our job now is to ‘put meat on the bone.’ We’ve begun to make changes in terms of changing structural issues, and now we are at the point to make them real and translate them into the classroom,” he said. “I’m excited about the changes. We’re pushing hard on a number of changes, from tenure reform and especially about charter schools growing in Tennessee.”
Haslam touched briefly on tourism in his budget address and was asked if marketing the state of Tennessee would be by region or a state-wide marketing strategy. The governor said he would depend on economic development professionals and elected leaders in each region to set priorities.
“We’ll take money in current economic development efforts and refocus that to build regional strategies,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be a new organizational set up or a focus on regional tourism as much as it will be a regional approach to what our strengths are and letting people on the ground set priorities.”