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Local leaders attend State-of-the-State Address

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam delivered his first “State of the State” address on Monday night at the state capital.  Governor Haslam said his budget is going on a rigorous diet as compared to past budgets.   He presented his $30 billion spending plan to both Senate and House lawmakers.  With federal stimulus money no longer available, Haslam’s budget next year is $2 billion smaller than this year’s plan.  It is forcing departments to cut an average in many cases of 2.5% from administrative positions.  “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,” said Haslam.
Budget highlights include a 1.6% pay raise for state employees, the first in four years.  It also includes cutting 1,180 positions from state payroll.  Given the 605 positions that are currently not filled, only 575 will have to come through attrition and retirements. The plan isn’t all cuts though. Sales tax growth will help fully fund education and TennCare inflation.  “Ten years from now we will not and cannot be doing government the same way we did 20 years ago,” said Haslam.
    Johnson County’s Senator and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said, “I think it’s a very responsible budget. Thank goodness we live in Tennessee. If you look at what other states are facing right now, their problems are much worse. And I think that goes to the leadership on both sides of the aisle.”
Bill Haslam said that even though the economy is improving, it would be wrong to assume that Tennessee is “out of the woods” when it comes to the state budget. 
   The governor is also proposing putting money back in the rainy day fund. He drew a loud applause from the standing room only House chambers when he asked the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to speed up the process for getting a driver’s license.  He also called on state lawmakers to review 140 state boards and commissioners to see if they are necessary. “Our goal in education, from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary, is to grow the number of college graduates, provide a better educated workforce for employers looking to relocate or expand in Tennessee, and let free market forces do the rest,” he said.
   The budget will need to be approved by both the State House and Senate. Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter and Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons were in attendance as was 20-year-old Knoxville native and 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne.  Bayne was recognized by the Senate earlier Monday.