Governor's optimism shared by legislators
After Gov. Bill Haslam's State of the State address Monday night, members of Sevier County's legislative delegation said they were struck by its optimism.
"It was one of the most upbeat State of the State addresses I've heard," said Rep. Dale Carr (R-Sevierville), who represents the 12th District in the State House of Representatives. "In a bad economy, Tennessee is doing well."
"What I heard from the governor is a bold, aggressive way of telling other states that in Tennessee, we're doing things right," said the 17th District's Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville).
In the speech, Haslam unveiled his $32.7 billion budget for 2013-2014. He stressed education. "By 2025, the governor wants to see 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree, so that we can get more jobs in the state," Carr said. "He's putting more money into higher education."
"We are a model for other states," said Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), of the 2nd District. "During the economic downturn, federal funding decreased, while we were one of the few states to increase funding for K-12 education."
Carr and Farmer praised the governor's remarks about having increased the state's rainy day fund by $100 million. "We're really proud of that," Carr said.
Haslam praised the state's workers and said he would introduce a merit-based system for their pay raises. "We'll really have to look at this one," said Carr, referring to the merit system. "I'm for everybody getting a raise, if it doesn't go too far."
The governor also discussed health care. "He pointed out that the growth in TennCare will require an additional $350 million, using up most of the surplus," Overbey said.
Haslam did not say whether he will expand Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act originally required states to expand Medicaid, but a 2012 Supreme Court decision struck down the mandate.
"He's making a difficult decision," Overbey said. "He doesn't favor Obamacare. It would be easy to say no to Obamacare. But there is an affect on our hospitals, and on the health care of individual Tennesseans. He has been sending the indication that he is going to take his time."
The State of the State address was the first for Carr and Farmer since they were sworn in as new representatives. "It's very humbling to know what the state is doing with the millions that we spend," Carr said.