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By Bill Haslam, Governor
In the little over a year that I have been in office, I’ve been reminded time and again about the incredible state we live in and the inspiring people who call Tennessee home.
Whether it’s visiting with families after last spring’s deadly tornados, sitting down with teachers for breakfast, or spending time with Tennessee guardsmen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve been struck by the fact that Tennesseans from all walks of life are so willing to give of themselves to create a better state for our children and grandchildren.
And isn’t that what we all strive for … to make things better for future generations?
On January 30, I had the privilege of delivering the annual State of the State address during a joint session of the 107th General Assembly to report on how Tennessee is doing,
And I’m pleased to tell you that in many ways we are doing great. We’re a state with low debt and low taxes. The economy is improving, and we added more than 28,000 new jobs with $4 billion in capital investment last year. The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 2008, and across the country, Tennessee is being recognized as a leader in education reform. But yet, we still face serious issues.
Unemployment is still too high, and we are consistently only in the mid-40s when states are ranked for educational achievement. I don’t think any of us should be satisfied. I think we can believe in better. We can believe in better for how state government serves Tennesseans. We can believe in better when it comes to the education of our children. And we can believe in better when we talk about a stronger, healthier economy for our state.
In the State of the State address, I presented a balanced budget that reflects our administration’s priorities and includes strategic investments, necessary cuts and savings for the future.
While many states have cut funding for K-12 education over the last several years because of the recession, Tennessee hasn’t, and we’re continuing to fund cost increases in education. Our budget also makes higher education a priority through operational funding investments and $264 million for long-deferred building projects. When 21 percent of Tennesseans have a degree compared to a national average of 30 percent, we have to encourage more access to more students.
This budget also includes $15 million to lower the tax burden on family farmers and family business owners as their operations span generations by raising the exemption on the estate tax from $1 million to $1.25 million. There is also $18 million in the budget to take the first step in lowering the state portion of the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5 percent over three years.
And we’re putting $50 million into the Rainy Day Fund bringing it up to $356 million. While it is important to return taxpayer dollars to taxpayers every chance we get, we’ve also seen the importance of a healthy Rainy Day Fund to pay for critical services during difficult times. I will continue to make it a priority to build our reserves steadily while I’m in office.
I believe state government’s role is to provide services people can’t get on their own, and my job is to make sure Tennesseans are getting those services at the lowest cost and in the most customer-friendly, efficient and effective way. That’s what you as a taxpayer expect, and it’s what you deserve.
In working together with the General Assembly to focus on meaningful issues and to pass our responsible budget, I know that we can achieve better for Tennessee.