Looking to 'believe in better,' Haslam appears determined to take middle road

Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 10:05pm

The culture war may rage around him, but Gov. Bill Haslam seems determined to ignore it — at least publicly — and stick to his trademark tone of moderation as he enters his sophomore year in office.

The Republican-dominated legislature is about to debate bills dealing with abortion, the Ten Commandments, sex education and transgender people in public restrooms — among other volatile topics — and state lawmakers are whipping up a storm of liberal outrage in the process of defending their proposals.

Chattanooga Rep. Richard Floyd threatened to “stomp a mudhole” in any transgender person who offended his family, and Knoxville Sen. Stacey Campfield postulated on a national radio show that AIDS originated from “one guy screwing a monkey … then having sex with men.”

Not surprisingly, the governor studiously avoided talking about any of that in last week’s State of the State speech. Instead, he challenged Tennesseans to “believe in better” as he detailed parts of his proposed $31 billion state budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Democratic leaders were left fumbling for angles of attack. They mainly repeated their accusation that the governor is failing to place enough emphasis on job creation, saying only one of the 55 administration bills is aimed at improving the economy. That one deals with fast-tracking grants to businesses, an idea they say was ripped off from Haslam’s predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen.

“ ‘Believe in Better’ seems to me to be nothing more than a campaign slogan and wishful thinking,” state Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester said. “The single issue facing Tennesseans and our country is job creation, and there’s been a paucity of discussion about job creation.”

The problem for Democrats is that the economy is rebounding, whether or not it’s Haslam’s doing. Since he took office a year ago, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has fallen closer to the national average, and state consumer confidence is up. Tax collections have increased each of the last 21 months to the point where state budget planners project revenues will reach pre-recession levels in the coming year for the first time.

With cash in his pocket, the governor is flummoxing Democrats by pushing tax cuts and ordering up the largest state construction program since the recession hit. A $126 million science building for Middle Tennessee State University is at the top of the list.

The legislature is certain to adopt Haslam’s budget after tweaking it a little. The two tax cuts — reducing the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent, and raising the inheritance tax exemption from $1 million to $1.25 million — might win unanimous approval.

“We support a gradual elimination of the sales tax on food,” said Senate Democratic Caucus chairman Lowe Finney, D-Jackson. “We applaud the governor for bringing this issue forward.”

Among other broadly popular measures, the budget also gives 2.5 percent pay raises to state employees and restores more than $100 million in cuts to services previously adopted by the legislature, including money for school nurses, alcohol and drug abuse treatment and diabetes prevention.

Even budget cuts — 1,100 jobs are eliminated — failed to draw much opposition from Democrats, who can’t afford to be seen as big-government spendthrifts. The best they can do is claim their cooperation is one reason the state’s finances are in relatively good shape.

“Is the current state of our state good enough?” Haslam asked lawmakers. “I think we can believe in better. We can believe in better for how state government serves Tennesseans. We can believe in better when it comes to the education of our children. We can believe in better when we talk about a stronger, healthier economy for our state.”

7 Comments on this post:

By: Rocket99 on 2/6/12 at 7:51

The governor supposedly wants to create more jobs and what does he propose? Cutting jobs. Also, the tax cuts he's proposing won't really do much, if anything for the average citizen in Tennessee. The best thing to do with the tax on groceries is to completely eliminate it, not just barely drop it. And, as far as the estate"death" tax changes he's proposed, it only affects the wealthy. It will NOT stop businesses from starting up or moving here. It WILL directly BENEFIT Mr. Haslam.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/6/12 at 8:45

Moonglow1: Haslam has pushed an extreme right wing agenda in this state and he can spout whatever slogan, but it will not work. The dem's could go after him for so many of his ALEC template legislation and agenda including:

Overturning a bill that passed for protecting gay rights in the workplace
Dangerous tort reform legislation (if injured you have limited ability to sue)
Killing collective bargaining (follows the ALEC playbook national agenda just like Scott Walker did in WI)
Gave his Commissioners raises of between 12-25 percent while cutting the pay for the rank and file (now that he has cut the workforce, commissioners have less responsibility and therefore should be paid less)
Completely killed public education in this state
Supports culture wars (he cannot run from his extreme right wing agenda)
Supports "intelligent design"
Does not support people's right to assemble (Occupy eviction)

By: Moonglow1 on 2/6/12 at 9:04

Moonglow1: Correction (actually some commissioners received raises as high as 45 percent).

By: pswindle on 2/6/12 at 9:33

Haslam hides behind his "moderation" slogan. He lets Ron and Beth do the dirty work. He says that he is not for something, but in the next breathe he signs these laws that protects his wealth and takes away everyone eles's rights. This state is slowly going into the toilet. Haslam was left a state in good condition, but we are slowly becoming a state without a soul. This is what happens when the GOP takes total control. I hope TN wakes up, but I'm afaid that the churches have brain-washed too many people in this great state.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/7/12 at 10:18

Moonglow1: I believe "in better too. ". In like we better vote the extreme tea nuts out of office soon. That way we can "better the middle class. " Yes I do believe we can do better by voting for democrats.

Unlike Haslam I do more than "believe. ". I act. I vote.

By: Ask01 on 2/7/12 at 2:04

Moonglow1, there are many in the electorate who have recognized the failure of the party of big business. The rallying cry declaring that big business and the wealthy create jobs has been proven false. A sudden surge of job creation just before elections cannot make up for the years of avoiding compromise in order to undermine 'the other side.'

Many have experienced a Reaganesque epiphany. When asked why he left the Democratic party, the Gipper responded, something the the effect of, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me."

In the same manner, many feel abandoned by the Republican Party. A truly revealing moment comes about when, finding oneself unemployed, a faithful Republican discovers his fellows suddenly regard him as a shiftless leach on society, a lowlife panhandler who, even after working his entire life, now is a bum who wants everything handed to him just because he wants a job with at least a subsistence wage.

This is the middle class today, with many slipping away and many more in fear of following while corporate America post record profits while laying off workers and closing factories to supposedly "stay competetive." Read that as to maintain exhorbitant corporate salaries and bonuses at the expense of those who actually do the work.

I'm sorry, that was way off topic, I fear, and a bit of a slobbering rant. Time for my medication.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/8/12 at 8:26

Moonglow1: good post AskO1. My fear is that jobs will never come back. The multinationals have no allegiance to the USA. And you are so correct. In a "right to work state" you can be fired for no cause. It should be called "the right to fire state. ". The Republican party has been co-opted by extremists. They don't care if you lose your job. Believe me. I understand. And this governor wants to drug test those individuals on unemployment. I know someone who worked from age 21-62 and at 62 was terminated. Well according to this governor the poor 62 year old is a slacker, a blood-sucker on society and must be on drugs and should be drug tested to receive benefits. . What nonsense!! I would like term limits and vote all these idiots out of office. The real blood-suckers are the companies who fire at will to increase their profit.