Legislators warm to Haslam's budget, SOTS address

Standing in front of the General Assembly for the third time in so many weeks, Gov. Bill Haslam said he wants to get the “right answer” on health care and education standards while following through on a giving teachers a pay raise and restructuring state worker pay.

After his annual State of the State address that avoided tackling controversial issues, the governor released a $33.3 billion budget plan for the legislature to take up. Both are available here.

Here’s what lawmakers had to say about the governor’s speech and his plans for this year’s legislative session:

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, regarding health care and education standards: “Excellent speech. He hit on exactly the things he needed to hit on. First of all, that the Insure Tennessee special session is over, let’s move on. Something may come back, but when it does, let’s address it at that time. And then of course on education, he said when we leave here, be able to look back and say you’ve actually made a difference in the state of Tennessee. And let’s be honest, we’ve always been relatively pro-business, we’ve always been relatively well-run. But the one thing we’ve always lacked is improving education scores in the state of Tennessee. We’ve done that the last four years, and I’m one that realizes that Common Core is dead, but at the same time we’ve got to maintain these high standards. We have to.”

House Speaker Beth Harwell, D-Nashville, regarding the governor’s speech: “I think more than anything, you walk away realizing the governor has tremendous good will in this body, receiving standing ovations, so everyone wants to see him continue to be successful as our governor. So, I think you’re going to see a good working relationship between the legislature and the governor.”

Harwell regarding continued focus on health care and education standards: “I think everyone agrees with that. I think this whole nation needs to continue to work on health care. There needs to be total, true reform in the health care system. We can’t sustain it as a nation. And if you look at the Tennessee budget, what goes into TennCare, that’s not sustainable either. I think he’s right, it’s a long-term issue for our nation…. I think the governor, I think he said it clearly: we need to develop Tennessee’s standards by Tennesseans for Tennessee students. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, regarding the $33.3 billion budget proposal: “I think the fact that it’s a conservative budget and it’s one that’s based on some fairly conservative revenue estimates, that could always change. Unfortunately, recently we’ve seen a lot of up and down fluctuation in the collection of revenues, particularly in the franchise and excise tax and he mentioned that. But I’m hopeful for the proposal he had on F&A collections, we can make that a little more stable in the future. Because it’s paid in advance, it’s going to have some degree of instability.”

Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, regarding education standards and budget proposal: “For those like myself who’ve always had concerns about the federal involvement in Common Core and acquiescing or abdicating our state sovereignty with regards to education standards, I thought he hit it head on. Let’s develop Tennessee standards here. They can be high standards but they can be standards that we create here in Tennessee for Tennessee students... I think that the focus and really drawing attention to the fact, the complexity of our budget situation. We’re painting a picture of, we have $500 million in increased expenses in the state, we have $300 million to spend on it, which is pretty easy math. You end up with about $200 million in reductions that have to be made. And those are tough decisions, but I applaud the governor for focusing on education, giving teachers a raise which are long overdue. That’s very good news for the state of Tennessee.”

Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, regarding proposed teacher pay increases and health care: “I think last year the governor took some real hits. I think he took some real hits for making a proposal and then backing off of it a little bit. And so I don’t think he’s going to go down that road again. I think he’s going to stick. Even tonight with respect to Insure Tennessee, even though he didn’t win — whatever that means — on Insure Tennessee, it didn’t pass, we didn’t get to consider it, he pretty much stuck, He stuck firm out there, he said, ‘Hey, Insure Tennessee was a good idea. We still have this problem out here. I’ve offered up one solution.’ And impressively, he challenged the legislature to come up with a solution on its own. He’s been pretty firm, and I have to give him credit, he was pretty firm on those kinds of things.”

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, regarding a proposed 4 percent increase in teacher salaries: “We’ve heard this story before but this is a promise I think the governor has a moral obligation to keep and it is incumbent on us in the legislature to fight for and make a real priority. It’s one thing to make a promise. It’s a whole other thing when the going gets tough to make sure teachers aren’t the first thing on the chopping block.”

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Health care cost increases slowing

A new report from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services says health care costs rose 3.9 percent in 2010, the slowest pace on record. Plus, Merrill Goozner writes that "CMS actuaries are now saying the cost of insuring 30 million previously uninsured Americans under the president’s signature health care reform bill will add only a sliver to overall spending, and that increase is about half the projected growth rate of a year ago."

So the big question seems to be: Are consumer-driven cost containment efforts beginning to bite? Or is this trend merely a cyclical economic indicator, a natural postponement of non-essential procedures?

Jul 28, 2011 11:50 AM