Governor Bill Lee was inaugurated as Tennessee's 50th governor

Williamson County Republican Bill Lee became Tennessee's 50th governor on Saturday, calling on the state to remember the poor and struggling as it celebrates its successes and prosperity.

Lee has appointed Bob Rolfe to continue in his role as Commissioner of TNECD. On working with Lee, Rolfe said he's "honored to serve under Governor Lee and looks forward to the great things we can accomplish under his leadership." 

Rolfe has served as TNECD commissioner since March 1, 2017.

As Gov. Lee prepares to hold hearings that will shape the first budget of his administration, Gov. Bill Lee and his finance commissioner said their estimated $37.8 billion proposal will prioritize five key areas.

Finance commissioner Stuart McWhorter said the administration’s primary focus will be K-12 education, criminal justice, mental health, health care and rural economic development.

“Those will be areas of focus and the dollars will be focused in those areas as well,” he said.

Among the notable absences on Lee’s priority list is higher education, which in recent years has seen significant investments from former Gov. Bill Haslam.

But Lee said that does not necessarily mean there will be cuts to higher education.

“We’ll have opportunity for every group, including higher ed, to provide for opportunities for cuts but also what their desires are,” he said. “There will be some investments in higher ed, we know that already.”

When asked if he would take a similar approach to other recent governors, who outright discounted the idea of making any cuts to K-12 education, Lee said, “Every department would have opportunities in places where you could cut and you could add at the same time.”

Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold later clarified the governor was not eyeing an overall reduction for K-12 education.

Beyond possibly bolstering funding for their areas of primary focus, Lee and McWhorter said they plan on adding more to the state’s reserves, known as the Rainy Day Fund.

“We don’t anticipate anything negative coming down the pike but we also are preparing for slow growth,” said McWhorter, who noted that economists “feel that is likely to occur.”

Although Lee’s first budget is set to be a slight increase over Haslam’s $37.8 billion final budget, overall, McWhorter said the administration did not have a goal of increasing the budget each year.

“Historically it’s grown. That’s a function primarily of economic growth,” said McWhorter. “As long as Tennessee continues to attract spending — the state collects those dollars — it will just continue to grow.”

All 23 departments are supposed to outline their budget requests in the coming days. Lee said he would be asking each state agency to identify 2 percent of its budget available for cuts. Such cuts may not necessarily be made, Lee said.

Lee’s budget is expected to be finalized by Feb. 8. He is set to address the legislature for his first State of the State address on March 4.

Source: Knoxville News Sent Joel Ebert

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Published January 25, 2019