Haslam: No Medicaid decision, more education money, DCS shake up

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Gov. Bill Haslam has presented to lawmakers a nearly $33 billion annual spending plan that includes a staffing shakeup at the troubled Department of Children's Services, a heavy investment into construction projects around the state and a large deposit into the state's cash savings fund

In his annual State of the State address, Haslam said he won't include a decision on whether the state should expand eligibility to Medicaid.

Under health care law, the federal government would pay 100 percent of cost increases for the expansion in the first three years and 90 percent thereafter. But the Republican-dominated Legislature is skeptical of most facets of President Obama's health care initiative.

The governor said the $32 billion spending plan will begin to feel the pressure of increased Medicaid costs because several health care provisions will go into effect halfway through the upcoming budget year.

Haslam said he will also announce "significant" spending on construction and maintenance at state colleges and universities and that he will make a large deposit in the state's cash reserve fund.

Haslam's budget proposal seeks to boost education performance in Tennessee with more than $300 million for improvements on the campuses of Tennessee's colleges and universities, as well as millions of dollars for higher teacher pay.

The Republican governor presented his third State of the State address to lawmakers on Monday night.

Improvements to the state's colleges and universities topped the proposed capital outlay for next year at a little over $307 million.

Rich Rhoda is executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He says the proposed funding is "very much appreciated."

The Republican governor also formally introduced his proposal to create a limited school voucher program in Tennessee to allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools.

According to legislation filed in the Senate on Monday, the program would be limited to 5,000 students in the school year that begins in August, and grow to 20,000 students by 2016.

Haslam acknowledged that the proposal will be "hotly debated," and Democrats issued a statement before the speech to criticize the plan.

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