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Governor's Budget Proposal Good News for Tenn. Higher Education

Thomas Miller & Partners PLLC
The planned MTSU Science Building, shown in this artist's rendering, will be located on the south side of campus adjacent to the James E. Walker Library on the site of the old Wood, Felder, Gore and Clement dorms.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/WMOT) —Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State address to the Tennessee General Assembly last night.

Haslam spent much of the 40 minute speech laying out his budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year. The governor's more than $31 billion proposal relies on rebounding revenues to avoid more drastic cuts the state would have faced otherwise.

Among other proposals, the governor is calling for raises for state employees, more spending on construction on college campuses and tax cuts on food and inheritance.

Haslam says the budget reflects his aim to deliver effective but low-cost services to Tennesseans.

"It's hard for people to spend other people's money as carefully as they spend their own. Even worse, it's easy for those of us in government to begin to think that the tax dollars are ours. It's here that it's best for all of us to remember what Mark Twain said about the tax payer's dollar, 'It's tainted. It taint mine and it taint yours!'"

Among the governor’s suggested cuts is the elimination of nearly 1,200 state jobs. Those reductions would leave the state with just under 44,000 employees — or about 6,000 fewer than in 2008.

Meanwhile, the governor wants to raise the salaries of remaining state workers by 2.5 percent.

The governor is also proposing significant changes to the way state workers are hired, managed and fired, calling the current system “broken.”

"This is not an indictment of our workforce. I've visited with employees in all of our 22 departments for the past year. I've seen, first hand, many dedicated, hard working and impressive people. This is about an antiquated system that limits who we can hire, and limits growth opportunities for outstanding current employees."

During his speech, the governor had good news for Tennessee’s institutions of higher learning.

The governor says this year’s state budget will include more than $330 million for capital projects and maintenance at the state's colleges and universities.

In his speech Haslam said improving higher education is crucial to his efforts to lower unemployment and attract high paying jobs to Tennessee.

“For the last several years we have not been funding higher education's capital plans to the degrees necessary to meet growing student demand. We need more space to train students in science, technology, engineering, and math - critical subjects in which we must provide more trained graduates."

The governor is proposing $94 million for a science lab at UT Knoxville, and $24 million for a patient diagnostic center at the UT Health Sciences Center in Memphis. He’s also proposed $127 million for a new science building at Middle Tennessee State University.

MTSUPresident Sidney A. McPhee says he couldn’t be more pleased.

“This project’s been on the list for 14 years. For the last seven years it’s been the number one project for the state. It was very, very exciting to see the broad based support last night in the General Assembly for this proposal…this project. And with the excitement with which the governor announced the proposal...we are beyond excited.”

While $330 million is a significant investment for the state, higher education officials were hoping for more. Tennessee’s universities and colleges have a capital improvements wish list containing about $2 billion worth of improvements.