With less than one week left in 2012, Gov. Bill Haslam reflected about government spending and cuts, as well as problems that may lie ahead in the new year.
Haslam is in the middle of planning his third budget as governor, and although the state has a surplus, he said that is actually making it more difficult.
"I say it's going to be a difficult year because I think expectations are different. When we came in two years ago, everybody knew times were tight, federal stimulus money was going away and they were going to have to react to it. Right now, there's a sense that 'hey, things are a whole lot better,' and now is finally my chance to get something," Haslam said.
The governor said the majority of the surplus will be taken up by TennCare for regular increases in healthcare costs and the costs associated with the federal health plan known as Obamacare. Other surplus funds will go toward the Department of Correction, because there has been an increase in the prisoner population.
Haslam said he does not want to again dip into the higher education budget, which has suffered drastic cuts over the past five years.
"It's still our fervent hope not to cut higher ed funding," he said.
What he has not yet decided is whether or not his office will push a plan for school vouchers, although it is expected in the legislature with or without his support.
A task force he created spent a year coming up with a plan, but it could not come to a consensus on how much the vouchers should cost and which students would be eligible.
"I don't think that means we should just drop the whole thing. I mean, public policy is hard and it's messy. If it was easy, we wouldn't be debating it," Haslam said.
As for his first two years so far as governor, Haslam said he is enjoying it more than he thought possible.
"I like it more than I thought it would. Your chance for impact is a lot bigger than I thought it was," he said.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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