Haslam might consider restructuring gas tax, expanding pre-k in 2nd term

After a first term avoiding talk about politically sensitive issues like whether he would push to expand pre-K or restructure the gas tax, Gov. Bill Haslam says he might actually do something in those areas in the next year or so, reports Andrea Zelinski.

The governor told reporters Friday afternoon he expects to evaluate transportation funding in the next year after telling Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Chamber of Commerce leaders that states will have to work on transportation funding issues while waiting for the federal government to make a move.

“I think Tennessee is going to have to — sometime in the next I-don’t-know-how-many-years — sometime next year look at highway funding. We have some serious challenges facing us,” Haslam told reporters.

Haslam said he would also consider whether to expand the state’s pre-K program ahead of his original timeline tied to the conclusion of a Vanderbilt University study on the effectiveness of the state’s current pre-K program. Haslam said he may be ready to confront that issue about a year from now at the earliest, saying he wouldn’t build an expansion into this year’s budget.

Vanderbilt’s study was originally scheduled to conclude in 2015, but was extended to 2019.

“It’s fair to say that’s too long. We’re not going to wait until 2019 to make a decision on that,” said Haslam. “For us, I think it’s driven not so much when it will be completely finished but this: When do we think we’ll know enough to make a priority decision?

“The issue with pre-K is like everything else. It’s like, should we do pre-K? Might be a good idea. Should we pay teachers more? Might be a good idea. I can keep going with that list. It’s more a question of, given the reality of a limited budget, which we have and are always going to have, should that be a priority for funding?”