By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday presented a $32.7 billion annual spending plan to lawmakers that includes a staffing shake-up at the troubled Department of Children’s Services, a heavy investment into construction projects around the state and a large deposit into the state’s cash savings fund.
The Republican governor also formally introduced his proposal to create a limited school voucher program in Tennessee to allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools.
“If we can help our lowest income students in our lowest-performing schools, why wouldn’t we?” he said in his 43-minute speech to a joint convention of the General Assembly. (Note: Full text of the governor’s speech is HERE.)
According to legislation filed in the Senate on Monday, the program would be limited to 5,000 students in the school year that begins in August, and grow to 20,000 by 2016.
In his first “State of the State” speech, Gov. Bill Haslam declared a “new normal” of Tennessee government getting by with less money; his second was centered on the phrase “believe in better,” suggesting that policy changes can improve things without new spending.
The governor hasn’t said what the theme will be in his third State of theState address, scheduled for delivery this evening at a joint meeting of the state House and Senate. But he has said it will be “more of the same” in the general sense of striving to reshape state government toward being more friendly toward business and more efficient in operations.
The state budget plans presented in his speeches of 2011 and 2012 both contained a mix of spending cuts in some areas and expansion in others with overall expenditures roughly stable in the $31 billion range. With state revenue rebounding in recent months, the overall figure will likely rise in the 2013 edition of a Haslam budget, though he says projected increases in TennCare costs and other factors will eat most of the new money.
Scott McNutt turned his satire guns on Gov. Bill Haslam Sunday, this time with vouchers as a topic a day before his “state-of-the-state” speech. The piece starts like this: Gov. Bill Haslam confirmed that, in his annual State of the State address tomorrow, he will introduce his own proposal to create a program in Tennessee to transfer more public money to private hands, beginning with a school voucher system. He declined to elaborate about which private concerns he would make eligible for taxpayer dollars.
The Republican governor told reporters that the tentative title for his plan is the Money Officially Obligated to the Citizenry Hijacked as Earmarks for the Right Schemes (MOOCHERS) program.
“Our MOOCHERS bill is similar to what we did last year with the Business Recruitment Incentivization with Banknote Enticements (BRIBE) system, which allows my administration to fast-track bundles of cash to private businesses that might relocate to Tennessee,” he said.
Haslam last year appointed a task force to study school voucher proposals and other options for allowing public money to transfer to private enterprises. He had previously been undecided about whether he would take the lead on a MOOCHERS proposal or if he would let lawmakers control the professional mendicant measure.
…The governor said his plan will be paid for through the state’s tax dollars. He also ruled out funding vouchers and other MOOCHERS ventures by replicating tax-credit programs created in states like Florida, which offset corporate donations used for similar MOOCHERS programs.
“Sure, we could set up a program where big businesses get tax rebates for funding business welfare projects we favor, but that means they have to wait longer for reimbursements, and we’re looking for the simplest way of transferring taxpayer money directly to private organizations,” Haslam explained.
— Note: the wrong link was used on this post initially; it has been corrected.