Job Cuts, Pay Raise In Gov. Haslam's First Budget - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Job Cuts, Pay Raise In Gov. Haslam's First Budget

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Governor Bill Haslam laid out his first budget proposal on Monday night to state lawmakers.

In his first State of the State address, he called for eliminating 1,200 government positions, giving a raise to remaining state workers and making the deepest spending cuts in higher education and TennCare.

"We are in a strong position, we have a low tax rate, and a very low level of debt," said Governor Haslam.

The new Republican governor's $30 billion budget plan sticks close to the blueprint from his Democratic predecessor for coping with the end of $2 billion in federal stimulus grants that helped offset the steep revenue drop of the Great Recession.

"However, my second point is that we really are going to have over a billion dollars less in revenue this year than we did last year.  That reality will frame this budget," Haslam added.

Governor Haslam is pushing for 40 million dollars in cuts to the state's TennCare program. This could impact a range of services for enrollees. There's also a push to limit certain medications, even acne medicine would no longer be available.

Plus, the amount that TennCare reimburses health care providers is expected to decrease, which could lead to limited options for enrollees.

More than 1,100 state employee jobs will be cut, many of them vacant positions that won't be filled.

"Like the private sector, state government is faced with having to adjust its workforce to reflect economic realities," Haslam stated.

Personnel cuts will impact the Department of Children's Services. They will lay off 74 people who work in seven group homes that will close, including one in Tullahoma and Nashville.

He also outlined major cuts to higher education, totalling about $20 million. A number of universities and community colleges will endure hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts.

"Higher education is being reduced two percent, but there will be no drop in financial aid for low-income students," according to Haslam.

Middle Tennessee State University will experience one of the biggest cuts in funding at $1.7 million.

Governor Haslam is pushing to give state employees a 1.6 percent salary increase, which would be their first raise in four years. Plus, raises are on the way for assistant district attoeys, public defenders, and the Highway Patrol.

The state's revenue collections have improved in recent months, but the governor has said Tennessee's finances won't fully rebound until 2014.

"I guess it was a surprising budget. I don't want him to get in trouble with some of the people in his party, but it was a pretty good budget, we got a shortfall, we got to try to make it up," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

Governor Haslam made it clear that Tennessee is up for the challenge.

"If we strive to be more, we will achieve much more," Haslam said.

But he said lawmakers will have to cut even deeper, to to make up losses suffered during the recession.

The governor also urged lawmakers to take action on several key issues.

He voiced support for the passage of tougher meth laws, and challenged them to find a way to speed-up the process through which driver's licenses are issued.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)

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