State budget hearing notes: Talk of cuts and needs for new spending

As he began hearings on developing a state budget for the coming year, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that some departments and agencies may have to make cuts, reports WPLN. At the same time, other media outlets report there were requests from some department for increased spending.

Low unemployment and a healthier economy continue to push up tax revenues, and the state of Tennessee is expecting a surplus of $400 million (compared to about $1 billion this year). But even more so than in years past, Haslam believes most of that money will go into the biggest items in the state budget — public education, government pensions and TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

“So we’re having ask people to be a lot more realistic,” Haslam says, “in both what they’re looking for in increases, as well as a lot of these cuts we will have to address if we want to invest new money.”

What Haslam means is that many state agencies may have to cut some programs to free up funds for other ones. His administration has asked them to come up with plans to take as much as 2.5 percent out of their budgets.

…(S)ome of the programs Haslam says he’d like to spend on are plans to fight the opioid epidemic, as well as pay increases for state workers. A 1-percent, across-the-board increase for all state workers would cost the state $50 million, Haslam says.

And although tax revenues are up overall, there is one funding source that’s certain to decline. Officials say they need to prepare for the loss of more than $200 million in revenue from the state’s investment tax, the so-called Hall income tax, which is being phased out.

The Times Free Press reports that the opioid crisis is helping fuel a request from the state Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich for 30  request for 30 new case managers to handle the influx of children coming into state custody as their addicted parents wind up in trouble.

Noting that the number of children and youths in state custody has increased from 8,100 to 8,600, Hommrich said that’s contributed to the need for the new case managers.

“Those are primarily related to the increase that we’ve seen in custody numbers. And we believe a lot of that increase is the result of, you know, the opioid crisis,” Hommrich said, adding, “and we continue to receive custody for a number children with serious mental health problems.”

The Tennessean reports that Safety Commissioner David Purkey cited recent “White Lives Matters” protests in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro – where officers “detained and disarmed several people with masks and weapons – in asking for 13 more Department of Homeland Security positions, 12 more Tennessee Highway Patrol officers and an upgraded helicopter.

A separate Tennessean story quotes the governor as saying he’s taking “definitely a different approach” to budget planning this year than last because of a smaller surplus cites some other department proposals during the first day of budget hearings. Excerpt:

Department of General Services Commissioner Bob Oglesby announced that he planned to reduce state property holdings by 1 million square feet, including vacant property rented and owned, by the end of 2017. This includes the sale of the Citizens Plaza State Office Building in downtown Nashville, which Oglesby said would be sold before the end of 2018.

… Department of Tourism Commissioner Kevin Triplett that tourism in Tennessee generated more than $1 billion in state revenues in 2016, and he requested $6.4 million for a marketing task force funds and state welcome center security, as well as $1.5 million for the second phase of the Tennessee Music Pathway project, which puts markers along significant music sites across the state.

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