Haslam touts Tennessee Reconnect


Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam gave the Knoxville Chamber a mini-version of his State of the State address, talking about new initiatives such as free community college and thorny issues such as how to fund needed highway improvements.

He told the audience at the Knoxville Convention Center about a number of achievements:

Enrollment is up in Tennessee Promise, the state’s program for providing two years of community college or technical education for graduating high school seniors; Tennessee is leading the nation in small business growth;

And the state is second in the nation in the growth of citizens’ median household income, Haslam said.

His administration has grabbed the attention of college leaders with the announcement of plans for the Tennessee Reconnect program. Haslam told those at the chamber breakfast that the program will broaden educational opportunities.

“It now means that regardless of your age, regardless of your economic background, you can go back to one of our community colleges or technical schools absolutely free of charge for anybody in Tennessee,” he said.

Haslam said he has been asked why a Republican governor would propose something that seemed like the sort of entitlement program the GOP generally opposes.

“Regardless of what your politics are, you have to admit that in our country we have a growing issue around inequality,” he said. “The math is there, we just do. The question is, what do we do about it?”

People with more education earn more and put more money back into the economy and this will make the expense of educating them worthwhile, he said.

“We will more than ever pay back that investment,” he said.

Haslam also talked an initiative that isn’t so popular around the state. One of the main challenges facing Tennessee is how to pay for road projects, he said.

There is huge backlog of road projects across the state, but funds - generally collected through fuel taxes - are getting more scarce, Haslam said. The 21 cents per gallon tax on gasoline has been the same since the 1980s, but its buying power is only 11 cents per gallon in today’s economy, he said.

“We have half as much money to build something that costs twice as much now,” he said.

Haslam proposes to deal with this through his Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy Act (IMPROVE), which contains a mix of tax cuts along with a 7cent-per-gallon tax increase on gasoline and a 12-cent-per-gallon increase on diesel.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Ed Marcum

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org


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