Haslam budget cuts positions, includes pay raise
Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 9:02 pm
NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam presented his first budget Monday, proposing to eliminate nearly 1,200 government positions, give a raise to remaining state employees and make the deepest cuts in spending on TennCare and higher education.
The new Republican governor’s $30 billion spending proposal sticks close to the blueprint set up by his Democratic predecessor for coping with the end of $2 billion in federal stimulus grants that helped offset the steep revenue drop of the Great Recession.
Haslam said that while revenue collections have improved in recent months, the state is years away from rebounding to pre-2008 levels.
“What we are seeing in government today really is the ‘new normal,’” Haslam said in his 34-minute State of the State address delivered to a joint session of the General Assembly. “Every government, ours included, will be forced to transform how it sets priorities and makes choices.”
The governor also made the case for his administration’s proposals to make teacher tenure more difficult to obtain and for ramping up efforts to fight methamphetamine production and use in Tennessee.
Haslam also repeated a call for civility and cooperation at the Capitol.
“None of us in this chamber tonight want Nashville to be like Washington, where partisanship prevents us from solving problems,” he said. “When there are opportunities to work together to advance our state, we should do so.”
Democratic Rep. Charles Curtiss of Sparta said he was encouraged by Haslam’s speech.
“He understands what we’re up against, and he’s looking at everything the way he should,” he said. “At the end of the day we’ll come together and pass what’s right.”
Haslam’s spending plan proposes cutting $133 million in recurring spending, including nearly $40 million at TennCare. The reductions at the state’s expanded Medicaid program would include reducing the reimbursement rate for cesarean sections, emergency room care for non-emergencies and place more limits on prescriptions.
The Haslam plan relies on a $449 million hospital assessment fee supported by the industry that would attract $871 million more in federal matching funds. If approved by the Legislature, the hospital fee would avoid previously proposed TennCare program changes like limiting enrollees to eight doctor visits per year and eliminating hospice counseling.
One major change Haslam made in former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s cost-cutting plan would restore $30 million to keep open the privately owned Whiteville Correctional Facility in Hardeman County. Bredesen had wanted to close the prison and move the inmates.
About half the positions to be eliminated under Haslam’s plan currently have no one doing the job. Most of the rest are paid for through federal grants or state savings that are running out at the end of the budget year. Nearly 600 jobs would be cut at the Cloverbottom and Greene Valley developmental facilities run by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
“Recently I was visiting with a group of high school students who asked me: ’What is the hardest part of your job?’” Haslam told lawmakers. “After thinking for a while, I responded that it is saying no on funding some items that we would like to say yes to.”
The governor wants to spend $77 million to give state employees a 1.6 percent raise, which would be their first in four years.
“If we are going to have a great higher education system and hard-working state employees, we cannot continue to ask them to go without raises,” Haslam said.
Haslam proposes cutting $2.8 million from the Department of Children’s Services to close community treatment facilities in Elizabethton, Tullahoma, Nashville, Memphis, Madisonville, Jackson and Johnson City. A separate nearly $1 million appropriation along with more from TennCare would be used to move children to privately run group homes.
State spending on higher education would be reduced by 2 percent, or about $20 million, under Haslam’s plan, though it does not take tuition increases into account. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission in November recommended raising tuition at least 7 percent at state universities and 5 percent at community colleges and technology centers.
Haslam wants to put about $70 million back in the state’s rainy day fund to prepare for the next economic downturn, and urged lawmakers to build up maximum reserves as the economy improves and the state starts collecting more revenue.
“Before we scratch the itch to spend those new dollars, decide whether a better use of the excess funds is an even greater down payment in the rainy day fund,” he said.
Haslam budget presentation: http://www.tn.gov/stateofthestate/
Published in The Messenger 3.15.11