By E. Thomas Wood
In the annual State of the State address, Gov. Don Sundquist tonight sought legislative support for the troubled TennCare program and for improvements to Tennessee's primary and secondary education systems.
Mr. Sundquist's speech to the General Assembly was notable for its lack of any suggestion of how new programs might be funded, given that the state needs to find – by his own estimate – $300 million to balance this year's budget before it takes on next year's plans.
A passing reference to Tennessee's "broken and unfair tax structure" was as close as the governor came to acknowledging last year's boisterous controversy over state tax reform.
Mr. Sundquist proclaimed that "TennCare must be saved." He said the state stands to lose nearly $700 million in federal support if the state health insurance program fails, and he predicted that "some hospitals will be forced to close" in that event.
The governor devoted the bulk of his speech to education, proposing several initiatives to improve early-childhood education, reading levels and retention of talented teachers.
At the end of his speech, Mr. Sundquist invoked the lessons of a children's book called "It's Mine" as he urged his listeners to share in his education goals. Perhaps because he did not explicitly compare the vocal opponents of his agenda to three-year-olds, he met with warm applause as he left the podium.