Gov. Bill Haslam's will release his budget proposal for 2014-2015 this evening and deliver his last State of the State address before facing re-election in November.
His speech before the 108th General Assembly is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST in Nashville. The Republican governor has describe this upcoming budget as the most difficult of his tenure. Tennessee collected $176 million less in taxes than it expected this year, leaving a gap that must be filled before the new budget year starts in July. The governor must now make adjustments to next year's spending plans.
But, this won't be an easy process - Haslam is facing demands from lawmakers, activists, and the president.
SIX BIG DEMANDS
Services for the disabled
The state has cut funding for the disabled for several years, despite a state law requiring it to deliver services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Tennessean reports that about 7,100 Tennesseans are now waiting for assistance. Haslam has suggested he will offer more funding for these services in next year's budget.
Republican lawmakers are pushing to cut or eliminate the state's tax on investment income, known as the Hall tax, as the state will soon begin phasing out estate taxes. Haslam has said a tax cut could cost the state another $170 million a year.
Haslam has said he wants 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree or an advanced certification by 2025. Over the past year, Haslam has dropped hints about how he plans to reach that goal, noting equipment shortages at technology centers and the rising cost of tuition.
Senate Republicans have pushed for the state to launch a school voucher program - an idea that Haslam has embraced reluctantly. Last year, the governor put forward a bill that would eventually have offered up to 20,000 vouchers to poor students in low-performing schools. But, he then yanked the plan when GOP lawmakers asked for more. Those legislators have now scaled back their demands. Haslam may reveal his next move in the budget or his speech.
Hospital executives have said they'll have to cut services and close some small hospitals unless the state agrees to expand TennCare and take advantage of about $1 billion in federal funding. Currently, about 175,000 Tennesseans are uninsured. Haslam has insisted he won't expand TennCare unless federal officials agree to a "Tennessee plan" modeled after private coverage. But, the governor isn't expected to report much on this issue today because last week he announced he hasn't worked out a deal.
President Obama has pressed states to offer pre-K to all 4-year-olds, including a call for expansion in his State of the Union speech. Haslam has said he wants to see more research on pre-K's effectiveness before deciding whether to expand pre-K beyond at-risk pre-schoolers.