Year in Review: Gov. Bill Haslam

Authored By James Harrison

For his second year as top executive for the state of Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam began 2012 by revealing his legislative agenda-a mix of bills targeting jobs, education, taxes and crime. 

Throughout the year, the governor would see various components of his agenda enacted and face important decisions for the state’s future. 

Giving his State of the State address in January, Haslam touted gains made through various jobs initiatives, but did not mention hundreds that would be eliminated in his budget for the year-including 170 resulting from the closure of the Taft Youth Development Center in Pikeville.

Haslam visited the White House for an annual governor’s meeting in February and returned to Washington, D.C., in April to testify before Congress in support of online sales tax reform. 

And after signing a bill to waive Tennessee from standards put in place by No Child Left Behind, the governor set his sights on higher education, spending summer months touring the state to discuss how the state’s educational institutions could best suit its workforce needs. 

When it came to legislation, Haslam signed a civil service reform bill into law in April, approved a quarter-percent reduction in the state’s tax on groceries, and passed a measure to gradually phase out Tennessee’s taxes on estates and inheritances. The governor also approved a trio of bills geared at enhancing public safety and allowed a controversial “evolution bill” sponsored by state Sen. Bo Watson to be passed into law without his signature on it. 

In September, the governor made his first trip to Japan, where he participated in the annual meeting of the Southeast U.S. Japan Association. In October, Haslam would visit New York to hold annual meetings with bond and credit rating agencies, later saying that he had been “encouraged” that the state would be able to maintain its top-tier ratings.

Following November’s election, Haslam was faced with a decision on whether or not to opt Tennessee into a state-run health care exchange program, under the Affordable Care Act. Despite having Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, Haslam, who said he saw benefits in the state running its own system, faced opposition to the idea from members of his own party. 

After accepting a federal deadline extension on his decision, the governor ultimately opted against a state-run exchange, citing difficulty in gaining a clear picture for how a system would be implemented from federal administrators. Haslam also said his decision had not been politically motivated, but rather came from the desire to do what made the most sense for Tennessee.

With the decision on health care exchanges behind him, the governor was left to decide on another major provision of the new health law-whether TennCare will expand its coverage to include more low-income Tennesseans.

And, in December, as he neared the midway point of his first term, Haslam announced his intention to run once more in 2014.