Significant reforms of how the state operates and a responsible budget that includes strategic investments, reductions and savings for the future highlighted Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's second legislative session as the state's chief executive.
Haslam introduced his comprehensive 2012 agenda on January 10, the first day of this year's legislative session. His legislative priorities included a limited number of significant changes, which built upon his efforts in 2011 to reform teacher tenure and tort laws.
"This administration heard the Lt. Gov. and House Speaker's call for an efficient and effective legislative session this year, and I'm incredibly proud of what we've accomplished in working together," Haslam said. "Our focus continues to be on making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, which goes hand in hand with an ongoing emphasis on improving education. I'm also committed to making sure state government does its job of providing services to Tennessee taxpayers at the lowest cost in the most customer-focused, efficient and effective way possible."
The governor's 2012 legislative agenda included:
Reform of the state's outdated employment system;
Decreases in the inheritance tax and the state's portion of the sales tax on food;
A complete rewrite of Tennessee's school accountability system after the state received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law;
An expansion of the FastTrack grant program;
And bills to improve public safety, which include combating prescription drug abuse, mandatory sentencing for repeat domestic violence offenders, and tougher sentencing for certain gang-related crimes and gun possession by those with prior felonies.
The $31.5 billion approved state budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013 includes:
$3.9 billion to fully fund the Basic Education Program;
$342.6 million for higher education capital improvements and maintenance;
$5 million for Tennessee career centers;
$29.6 million for Tennessee state parks;
$40 million in payments to local jails;
$50 million to rebuild the Rainy Day Fund to $356 million;
And a 2.5 percent pay increase for state employees.
The budget also restores more than $133 million of a total of $160 million in reductions to "core services" first identified as cuts in the FY 2010-2011 budget but delayed until this year through the use of one-time money.