VOL. 126 | NO. 102 | Wednesday, May 25, 2011
By Bill Dries
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, as the week began, was still reading the fine print of some of the last bills passed over the weekend by the Tennessee Legislature.
Gov. Bill Haslam, right, speaks to County District Attorney General Amy Weirich with Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, center, at the Public Servant Awards in honor of Bobby Dunavant.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Both chambers adjourned for the year on Saturday with Haslam having accomplished the major legislative goals he set shortly after taking office in January.
“We were able to cut the size of the budget but give pay increases, put $70 million additional in the rainy day fund, $70 million toward flood and disaster relief,” Haslam said Monday, May 23, in Memphis after speaking at the eighth annual Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards at the Rotary Club of East Memphis.
“Really, every one of the major legislative pieces we proposed passed.”
The awards, which went to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, are co-sponsored by The Daily News and the University of Memphis.
“You are constantly surrounded by news. Everything is news and everything is in the news and quite frankly, it makes it harder to be a public servant,” Haslam said in his keynote speech. “It makes folks a little bit more hesitant to make decisions because they have to always think through what are the implications of this and I may not have a chance to tell my story when I make this decision.”
He also said partisan differences and divisions along party lines are more pronounced.
“If you look at Washington today, most of us are frustrated by the paralysis that grips Washington,” he said. “I worried about that with our own legislature. … There is nothing you can do that is as important for the future of our state and your city and your county than electing good people.”
Before coming to Memphis, Haslam also met Monday with the Haywood County megasite’s board of directors in Jackson.
Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith was elected chairman of the board.
“We talked about next steps and what needs to happen to push that forward,” Haslam said. “They’re finishing the infrastructure – getting water available and sewer – which is going to be about a year and a half to two-year process. We wanted to make certain, though, that everything was clear between what was the state’s role, what was the authority’s role and what was local government’s role.”
Haslam did not include state megasite funding in his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But he said his administration remains committed to delivering the funding when it is needed and added that earlier state funding allocated for the project had not yet been used.
The Jackson meeting came the day before Haslam and other state leaders gathered in Chattanooga for the opening of the Volkswagen plant there. The Volkswagen plant is built on the East Tennessee megasite. The state’s Middle Tennessee megasite in Clarksville is home to the Hemlock Semiconductor plant.
Democrats in the legislature were critical of Haslam for leaving out funding for the Haywood County site. But Haslam said he remains committed to the project and finding an industrial tenant for it.