NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday his second State of the State address will focus largely on the delivery of effective and low-cost services to Tennesseans.
The governor said in a preview of his speech to a joint session of the General Assembly that improving state revenues have averted some of the deeper reductions that the state would have faced otherwise.
But Haslam stressed that some "painful, but necessary cuts" remain necessary as the state continues to cope with reductions in federal spending and increases in costs in areas such as education, TennCare and health care costs for state workers.
"State government's role is to provide the very best service we can, at the very lowest price for our citizens," Haslam said. "My job as governor is to make sure we doing that, and we're providing those services in a customer friendly and effective way"
The governor was scheduled to present his plan to lawmakers in a joint session of the General Assembly on Monday evening. It includes an increase in spending on construction and maintenance on the campuses of state colleges and universities.
"Funding projects for higher ed capital are very significant," Haslam said. "They've been delayed too long, and we have a serious backlog of needed projects across the state."
The proposal also includes an across-the-board raise for state employees for the second straight year, though Haslam repeated his call for allowing targeted pay increases for high-performing workers.
"I don't think giving nominal across the board pay raises is the best way in the long run to recruit, retain and reward great employee," said Haslam, who is also calling for doing away with most civil service protections for state employees.
Haslam said his budget proposal will include funding for his previously announced priorities for the current legislative session, including:
— Reducing the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent.
— Increasing the exemption for the inheritance tax from $1 million to $1.25 million.
— Mandatory jail time for people convicted of repeat domestic violence crimes.
— Enhanced penalties for gang and gun crimes.
— Fighting methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse.
Haslam noted that the federal share of the state's total spending plan in the upcoming budget year is estimated at 39.6 percent, down from 43.1 percent three years ago.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on the governor to reconsider his plan to close the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. The juvenile detention center takes in the state's hardest cases and currently houses about 100 juveniles and employs about 170.
State officials have noted that a new prison in Bledsoe County will employ many workers with similar skills and training as those who previously worked at Taft.