Gov. Bill Haslam defended the state’s dealings with Jones Lang LaSalle despite an audit critical of his administration’s practices working with the company.
“The easiest thing in the world to do in government is to leave it all the same because if you just leave it the same, nobody ever says a word because, well, that’s just how it’s always worked,” he told reporters following the Wednesday’s budget hearings.
Haslam defended the contract, saying the company has addressed some life safety issues, deferred maintenance, and saving “what I think will be a considerable amount of money for the state long term.”
The state comptroller’s audit released today is critical of the state’s arrangement with JLL, a real estate management company that won a $1 million contract the state amended multiple times to total $7.6 million in maximum contract liability. The audit also said the amendments created organizational conflicts where the company could profit from its own planning and leasing advice it offered the state.
While Haslam said “we knew there was a potential for that,” he said he relies on the departments and the state Building Commission to serve as checks and balances to protect potential conflicts of interests.
“Again, any new project that’s this large and some something this new, can the process work better? Yes, I think we’d say the answer to that is yes,” he said.
Republican lawmakers had the nonpartisan Fiscal Review Committee examine how much refugees were costing the state of Tennessee:
New estimates compiled by the state’s non-partisan Fiscal Review Committee show Tennessee taxpayers spent $40 million last year to educate school-age refugees and $26 million to cover those on the state’s Medicaid program – TennCare. But refugees more than pay their way, remitting more than $103 million in taxes.
Researchers say there was some data they couldn’t get a hold of. For instance, the study doesn’t consider how many refugees might be in prison. The study also assumes refugees generate the same amount of taxes as the average Tennessean.
The lawmakers rejected the study.
Surprised by lackluster state revenues, the governor expects this year to be the toughest yet to craft a spending plan, he said immediately following his first morning of yearly budget hearings.
Between state revenues lagging roughly $100 million below expectations in the first quarter and built-in increases in education and TennCare funding — as well as increased Tenncare enrollment — eating up new dollars, Gov. Bill Haslam said he will have to consider more in the way of reductions this year than he had in years past.
“Hopefully, we’re being very strategic and surgical in this instead of just saying, ‘OK, we’re going to take 3 percent everywhere,’” Haslam told reporters.
Beginning his fourth year in office, this is the first with revenues falling short of forecasts, he said. The drop could mean losing dollars slated for this year — which ends in June — and shrink the pool of money available for the state to divvy out in 2014-2015.
“There’s a recurring effect to that. I think it’ll just make our decisions all that much harder,” said Haslam, who is beginning to hear proposed budget plans from state agency leaders this week.
He is asking them to present plans for 5 percent in department reductions, but said he expects any cuts he makes to be “strategic and surgical” enough to go easy on agencies that have seen hits to their budget in recent years.