Opposition Light as Haslam Unveils Agenda

When Republican Governor Bill Haslam delivers his state of the state address Monday night, he may get at least some applause from every corner of the House chamber. The agenda he’s unveiled so far isn’t giving Democrats much to complain about.

The minority party is a big fan of lowering the tax on food, as Haslam has proposed. But House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh says he could also get behind his tax cut on million dollar estates, so long as programs like TennCare are protected.

“I think you’ll find that we have some agreements with the governor. We think that he’s moving in the right direction on some matters.”

Fitzhugh says he appreciates that Haslam is not focused on social issues. As for the wholesale changes to civil service rules, Fitzhugh agrees that there’s room for improvement, though he urges caution.

Even the Tennessee State Employees Association has remained relatively restrained. Executive director Robert O’Connell has his concerns about losing protections but says Haslam is listening.

“In the first six months of his administration, he spoke to us, he brought us in for meetings more frequently than the last governor did in his entire tenure….so that speaks volumes for Governor Haslam.”

O’Connell says he’ll listen to hear if state employees have already influenced the governor’s plans.

Lt Governor Cautioning Any Rush to Spend Higher Revenues

Haslam has been forced to do less cutting than he once thought because tax collections have beaten expectations. Republican leaders of the General Assembly, though, are trying to slow down any rush to spend.

Sales tax revenue has increased every month for the last 21 months.

“People need to understand, though, that when we say revenues are up, that’s all relative.”

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey points out that state economists don’t believe the budget will climb back to where it was in 2007 for another year. So Ramsey is trying to limit expectations from groups like state workers who want a substantial raise and college presidents, who want to borrow $2 billion for a backlog of projects.

“I can understand their line of reasoning in that we do have some pent up demands here.”

But Ramsey says that kind of big borrowing could jeopardize the state’s AAA credit rating. Still, he does expect the state to spend more on building in higher education than in recent years.

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