Capitol Hill Week 2/5/2016

Governor Bill Haslam’s unveils 2016-2017 budget focusing on education

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 4, 2016 — Governor Bill Haslam delivered his proposal to fund state government for the 2016-2017 fiscal year in his annual State of the State Address this week, unveiling a balanced $34.8 billion proposal that makes the largest investment in K-12 education without a tax increase in Tennessee’s history. The governor’s Fiscal Year 2016-2017 budget proposes 261 million in new dollars for Tennessee public education, including $104.6 million for teacher salaries. It also builds up state reserves, puts Tennessee on the path to catch up on long-deferred maintenance of buildings, reinvests in the state workforce and focuses one-time dollars on reducing the state’s ongoing costs.

In his speech, Gov. Haslam highlighted the collaborative effort with the General Assembly to grow Tennessee’s economy, reduce ongoing costs, provide high quality service to taxpayers and maintain fiscal discipline that has positioned Tennessee to invest in its priorities. The governor said that the budget proposal takes advantage of a strengthening economy combined with the hard work and discipline of departments of state government and the conservative fiscal strategy employed by the General Assembly, the state’s constitutional officers and his administration.

“By managing wisely and investing strategically, we’re making tax dollars work harder for Tennesseans. This is what we do,” Haslam said.

Including the current fiscal year’s appropriation, state government will invest more than 414 million in new dollars in Tennessee schools. Haslam proposed funding the 12th month of health insurance for teachers and doubling the state’s recurring contribution for technology needs at schools.

The governor’s proposal puts $100 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing it to an estimated $668 million on June 30, 2017; $60 million for salary increases for state employees; and another $36 million for market rate adjustments for state employees making less than $50,000 annually.

Gov. Haslam proposed significant investments in higher education and the Drive to 55 initiative, the state’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential to 55 percent by 2025, including:

• $50 million for the Complete College funding formula for higher education;
• $20 million for the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund to help community and technical colleges meet the growing demand for degrees and certificates; and
• $10 million for the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP), helping communities align degree and course offerings with the needs of the local workforce.

Other notable budget investments are:

• $130 million from the General Fund to repay the Highway Fund;
• $24 million in state funds for the Employment and Community First (ECF) CHOICES program to allow the state to serve more people currently on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ waiting list and others eligible for services;
• $12.8 million for facilities and homeland security upgrades for the Military Department;
• $10 million for the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Rural Development Initiative;
• $1.27 million to increase the number of drug recovery courts from 41 to 50 and for two additional veterans courts.

“We have been very prudent with Tennessee’s finances. We have the lowest state debt in the nation and nothing in this budget will create new debt,” added Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), who is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Rather, this budget increases the state’s savings account which declined greatly during the recession years to ensure we have the financial safety net we need in the event of a downturn in the economy. I look forward to working with the administration as this budget moves forward.”

Legislation calling for online voter registration advances in the Senate State and Local Government Committee

Legislation providing for the establishment of an online voter registration system for Tennesseans was unanimously approved by members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Under Senate Bill 1626 / House Bill 1742, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), voters with an unexpired driver’s license or personal identification card issued by the Department of Safety will be able to go to an official state website where they will be able to register to vote online.

“In an electronic age, it makes sense to provide electronic registration if we have proper safeguards and validation steps,” said Senator Yager. “This legislation provides those assurances to make voter registration more convenient for Tennesseans and hopefully encourages more citizens to participate in the election process.”

The voter registration application would be reviewed electronically. If the request is confirmed to be valid, the new registration would be added to the state’s voter registration list after being reviewed by the respective county election commission office. The validation step is done by comparing the information on the online registration form against the information provided by the same individual when he or she received a driver’s license or their state-issued identification card.

The signature already on record with the state would become the signature on record for voting. If the information does not match, the applicant would be directed to print and complete the application and mail it to the county election commission office in their county of residence to be processed.

 

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