New Haslam spending proposed for roads, TennCare, schools

Friday, March 25, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 13

NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday proposed new spending on Tennessee roads, TennCare and schools.

The annual budget amendment reflects the governor's priorities for spending about $65 million in savings beyond what was originally projected for the budget year beginning July 1.

Haslam's proposal does not address a more than $407 million general fund surplus that the state has collected through the first seven months of the current budget year. Opponents of the governor's push to boost transportation funding through a gas tax increase argued that the surplus should be spent on road projects before any tax hike is considered.

Haslam's budget amendment includes directing $12 million to the state's highway fund on top of the $130 million he had proposed earlier this year. About $42 million of that total would be spent on the transportation needs of cities and counties.

The state would also spend $18 million to restore a 1 percent rate cut for TennCare providers, $9 million to pay for growth in school enrollment, and about $2.5 million to increase provider rates with the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

"This amendment builds on our priorities by making thoughtful and strategic investments in services across state government," Haslam said in a release.

The governor also proposed $147,000 to be spent on a new position within the state's Office of Open Records Counsel, which helps Tennesseans obtain government records.

A recent comptroller's audit documented more than 600 open or pending cases where citizens or governments made requests to the Office of Open Records Counsel.

The office was created in 2008 in the aftermath of the FBI's Tennessee Waltz sting operation. But after its full-time lawyer left in 2014, its duties have been covered by another staffer in Comptroller Justin Wilson's office.

Wilson had requested nearly $265,000 in the budget to help with the growing number of requests for information.

Haslam's full budget amendment was to be presented to the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. The full legislation is scheduled to be filed April 7.