NASHVILLE - Citing the need to provide more support to under-funded agencies, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday he wants additional money allocated for locally controlled jails that house state inmates, as part of his proposed $32.7 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
“In this (proposed) budget, we are spending $48 million to compensate our local jails for housing more state prisoners,” Haslam said, during his third State of the State address before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Although the Tennessee Department of Correction has already started “working on a strategic plan to better predict and plan for our inmate population moving forward,” Haslam said, the funds would help pay for capital projects to ease overcrowding and offset the costs of housing state prisoners.
One such jail that would likely benefit from the increased funding is the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, which independent auditors have determined is understaffed and overcrowded.
In addition, Haslam pushed for increasing funding for inmate medical and mental health treatments to $21 million in the next budget, which also includes allocation requests to further develop drug court programs.
“As we continue to fight the prescription drug abuse epidemic we face in Tennessee, we have to attack it from as many fronts as possible,” he said. “We have model drug court programs in this state that are working, so our budget includes funding to expand these programs.”
Throughout his speech, Haslam spent much of the time contrasting how Tennessee manages its fiscal duties with Congress, which has failed to pass a budget for three years.
“We have a long history of fiscal restraint that crosses party lines," he said. "We have been deliberate about not spending money we do not have and in making a concerted effort to save for the future ... and now we are well positioned to continue to invest in a thoughtful, strategic manner.”
He reiterated his priorities in the areas of attracting and growing Tennessee jobs, the importance of a customer-focused, efficient and effective state government, improving public safety, and making significant progress in education.
As part of those plans, Haslam called for spending more than $307 million on higher education projects, $51 million toward K-12 education for new technology and upgrades, as well as $34 million for increased security measures.
The latter, he said, could be used to fund school resource officers or other initiatives designed to improve school safety.
The funding requests are just a few of the many items included in the 2014 fiscal year budget that highlight an unprecedented shift for lawmakers.
“These days, it is hard to tell what may or may not come out of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The federal government is famous for creating a program and then withdrawing the funds years later, which leaves state governments on the hook.
“If the federal government decides to quit funding a program, then unless there is an exceptional reason, we will not continue to fund it with state dollars.”
For example, he said, Medicaid costs have “continued to squeeze out other priorities.”
Given the situation, Haslam contended it is time for Tennessee to turn its attention to matters that have largely been pushed aside until recently, including education and public safety concerns.
“When we talk about where we are going, one of the most critical drivers is the state budget,” Haslam said, adding that how taxpayer dollars are spent should reflect the needs and priorities of Tennesseans.
And the increase of funds that are needed for local jails, he said, is one of the primary reasons why Tennessee must ensure students have the opportunity to attend good schools, as well as have access to higher education.
“These costs are another example of why our focus on education is crucial,” he said. “The more educated our citizens are, the less problems we will have with crime.”