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Response to Governor Haslam's 2018 State of the State Address

Governor Haslam Speaking to 110th TN General Assembly
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In his eighth and final State of the State Address this evening, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam reflected on the impact of “changing our expectations.” “In doing so,” he said, “we realized we could compete with any state.” His framework resonates with our work to raise expectations for quality of life and opportunities for those of us with disabilities. 

His language was inclusive. Governor Haslam addressed that “when we talk about jobs, we are also talking about education. We are talking about the ability for every Tennessean to fully realize his or her potential.” EVERY Tennessean.

The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Proposal for the State of Tennessee totals $37.5 billion and includes more than $200 million in new state funding for K-12 education, including additional funds for teacher compensation.

While Governor Haslam's higher standards for public education have all of our children in mind, implementation must be fair and equitable for students with disabilities. If the goal is to provide more opportunities to students and returning students, then those opportunities must be offered to all, including those of us with disabilities.

The 3% unemployment rate that Governor Haslam proudly announced tonight is not indicative that fewer than 30% of working-age adults with disabilities have jobs, compared to 75% of those without disabilities. Many Tennesseans with disabilities want to work and one of the barriers our community faces to finding quality jobs are the barriers to education after high school. The proposed FY 2019 Budget includes nearly $100 million for higher education initiatives and $128 million for job growth investments. We hope that these investments will expand access to higher education and employment for Tennesseans with disabilities.

To a joint convention of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly tonight, Governor Haslam introduced the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. We hope that this plan to expand community-based resources will begin to address that children with disabilities are disproportionately placed in the juvenile justice system. An overview of this legislation is available at: https://www.tn.gov/governor/2018-legislative-priorities/justice

Also announced tonight was the Governor’s proposal to allocate nearly $15 million in new state funds to create TN Together, a plan to address the opioid crisis in our state.

Despite these new funding allocations, for Fiscal Year 2019 Governor Haslam recommends a “no growth budget” in that it does not exceed the current year budget level. This means that the recommended budget includes $78.6 million in reductions. In Volume Two of the proposed budget, reductions to the following departments are included:

  • Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: 20 positions are recommended for elimination, nine of which will be to Middle Tennessee Community Homes.
  • Department of Children’s Services: 12 positions are recommended for elimination, including seven full-time positions in child and family services.
  • Department of Human Services: 66 full-time positions recommended for elimination. Fifty-three positions would be cut from rehabilitation services, two from disability determination, two from quality improvement and nine from administration.

Though unmentioned in the Governor's speech, we would like to address an item from his written budget proposal. We appreciate the work of the Department and Commissioner Debra Payne to preserve funding for the Family Support Program that serves over 4,000 Tennessee Families. This cost-effective program keeps individuals with disabilities in their own homes and communities. For the majority of these individuals this is the only assistance they receive and it keeps them from needing more expensive services.

Many aspects of state government impact the lives of Tennesseans with disabilities. Funding for needed services is determined by the amount allocated in the state budget each year. We will continue to analyze the Governor’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 and the funding discussions of our Tennessee General Assembly as they work to pass a balanced budget in the next few months.

The full text of Governor Haslam’s January 29th, 2018 State of the State Address and the 2018-19 State Budget documents are available at: https://www.tn.gov/governor/priorities/state-of-the-state-2018.html

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Tennessee Disability Coalition

The Coalition is an alliance of organizations and individuals who have joined to promote the full and equal participation of men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. We work together to advocate for public policy that ensures self-determination, independence, empowerment, and inclusion for people with disabilities in areas such as accessibility, education, healthcare, housing, and voting rights.

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Nashville: (615) 383-9442Toll-free: (888) 643-7811Email: coalition@tndisability.org