Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is pictured in this file photo. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)
Gov. Bill Haslam is a fine, enthusiastic leader in tough economic times. His common sense and his sense of hope for Tennessee shone through in a visit Thursday to Chattanooga's Downtown Rotary Club.
He noted statistics showing optimism among Tennesseans about our economic prospects. Chattanoogans need look no further than the huge Volkswagen manufacturing plant at Enterprise South industrial park, as well as other major developments here over the past few years, to find justification for that optimism.
Spelling out his plans for progress, Haslam reiterated a proposal that lawmakers reduce the sales tax on food in Tennessee, from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent at first, and eventually to 5 percent. That would make a difference to many families over time.
He also pointed out something that would be difficult to dispute: that he has been relentless in efforts to budget conservatively and to spend Tennesseans' tax dollars judiciously.
Not all his proposals to save money have been greeted enthusiastically, of course. He is taking some heat over the proposed closing of Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. The site is for serious juvenile offenders.
Taft's supporters point to the low recidivism rate of youths who go to the facility. There is also concern about job losses if the center is closed and the youths are sent to other facilities. But officials say the occupancy rate in such facilities around the state is too low, and that closing Taft would increase the rate and boost efficiency. They also say it would be too costly to perform renovations needed at Taft, and that most displaced Taft workers will be able to get jobs at a nearby prison opening next year.
Closing Taft is a hard call. But Haslam has a duty to promote efficient state services, and it seems some of the most serious objections to closing Taft have been answered.
The focus now should be on replicating at other juvenile facilities around the state Taft's success on recidivism rates.