Editorial: Governor had bumpy session, but signature piece has passed

Apr. 17, 2014 @ 11:36 PM

The 108th Tennessee State Legislature adjourned Thursday afternoon after an up-and-down session for Gov. Bill Haslam.

Though the Knoxville native passed what could be his signature legislation, Tennessee Promise, which gives state high school graduates free tuition at community colleges, the governor also lost some battles along the way.

With a budget shortfall, Haslam was forced to step back on state pay raises — including those to teachers — just months after talking about Tennessee needing to pay teachers better to keep good, qualified professionals in the business.

His proposed voucher program also failed to pass in its second go-round.

But the passage of legislation to further fight the methamphetamine problem — by limiting pseudoephedrine sales without a prescription —is one positive for the governor’s agenda.

The greatest, however, by far, is the Tennessee Promise passage.

The bill was approved overwhelmingly by the legislature, 87-8 in the house just a day after the Senate approved it 30-1.

“The legislation is a cornerstone of the Republican governor’s ‘Drive to 55’ campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state,” the Associated Press reported.

It is hoped, by the governor and economic development professionals across the state, that the move will help spur industrial businesses to consider making Tennessee a home for new factories, home offices and other operations as it couples the state’s low cost of business with an educated workforce.

The governor introduced the plan in his State of the State address in February.

“The Tennessee Promise is an ongoing commitment to every student — from every kindergartner to every high school senior,” Haslam said. “We will promise that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free. 

“If students then choose to go on to a four-year school, our transfer pathways program makes it possible for those students to start as a junior. By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is cut in half.”

With local leaders stressing that our local economy must be diversifying beyond tourism, Tennessee Promise and a growing Walters State Community College may be just what we need to create a workforce to staff that more diversified economy.