Haslam’s State of the State: Addressing Contradictions

Haslam Two FaceAfter a year of dithering on his stated aim to increase post-secondary graduation rates to 55 percent, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday finally proposed a program to move toward accomplishing this goal.

Along with it, his budget includes college tuition hikes and scholarship cuts for freshman and sophomores.

Haslam has been using this kind of political doublespeak since he began running for governor four years ago and his State of the State speech Monday night was riddled with more of the same.

‘Tennessee Promise’

Haslam’s big announcement was a new $34 million government program, called Tennessee Promise, which would pay for graduating high school seniors to attend two years of community college free of tuition and fees.

Haslam budgets for the “Promise” by weakening the Hope Scholarship program and hiking tuition rates — again.

If the governor gets his way, Tennessee Promise would divert several hundred million dollars from the Tennessee Lottery reserve that underwrites the Hope Scholarship program. Haslam would also cut Hope Scholarship funding by $1,000 a year for qualifying freshmen and sophomores enrolled in four-year colleges.

To support two-year programs, Haslam’s plan would punish first- and second-year students at four-year universities. It would also severely restrict any future push to expand the successful Hope Scholarship program, which has provided high-performing students reliable tuition assistance, but hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

The father of the Hope Scholarship, now-Congressman Steve Cohen explained the problem with Tennessee Promise in an interview with The Commercial Appeal.

Preparing students to win the jobs of tomorrow is crucial for our state’s economic future, but stealing crucial funding from students and four-year universities to bolster two-year programs misses the point.

More Doublespeak & Contradictions

The ‘Promise’ was a glaring example, but there was plenty more Haslam doublespeak from his speech, where his actions have contradicted his rhetoric.

Teacher Pay: For months the governor has openly bragged about his intention to make Tennessee the “fastest growing” state for teacher pay. He repeated himself again at the State of the State.

Haslam did not mention that this year’s pay raise was financed with savings from the deep cuts Haslam’s administration made to the teacher salary schedule last year.

Taxes: Haslam yowled about a new $80 million budget deficit, but refused to acknowledge that his massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, like himself, played any part in creating the deficit.

In fact, Haslam’s tax breaks for the rich, which will dig a $1 billion hole in the state budget over a decade, could have paid for his entire Tennessee Promise program and spared cuts to other vital programs that serve Tennesseans.

But Haslam and the Republican majority would rather cut programs for working families and saddle students with more debt than ask the wealthiest Tennesseans to do their share to invest in our economic future.

Healthcare: Once again, Haslam said how important it was for Tennessee families to have health coverage. He then told Tennessee’s uninsured, working poor to keep dreaming ‘cause Medicaid expansion ain’t happening on his watch.

Best Managed State: Haslam crowed about Tennessee being named third best managed state.

He left out that his Department of Children’s Services failed to respond to children in need or even account for more than a hundred dead children in its care.

Haslam also skimmed past the preventable deaths of disabled Tennesseans in the care of his Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.

Haslam glossed over his office management plan at the Department of General Services, which secured a $330 million no-bid, sweetheart contract for his business pals.

Never said a word about the $73 million of fraudulent and improper payments and crushing backlogs at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

What did you take away from Haslam’s State of the State?

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com




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