Many public officials find it easy to propose more spending and higher taxes. But Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam should be commended for proposing in his State of the State speech to legislators on Tuesday an actual reduction in the state's budget.
Haslam has proposed $30.08 billion in spending -- a 2.5 percent reduction from the current budget.
Under the proposed budget, the number of positions in state government would drop by nearly 1,200, from 45,072 to 43,906. Only a little over half of the positions on the chopping block are currently filled.
Some of the cuts would come from closing the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. It houses serious juvenile offenders. State officials say getting it to current standards would cost almost $40 million. So instead, the teens there would be transferred to other state facilities under Haslam's plan.
State workers would get a 2.5 percent pay raise, but the governor would rightly limit civil service protections that make hiring and firing cumbersome and inefficient.
Also key to Haslam's plan are tax relief proposals. He wants initially to reduce the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent, and to cut it over a three-year period to 5 percent.
He also wants to raise the exemption on the death tax on inheritances, from $1 million to $1.25 million, then to raise the exemption to $5 million over time. That is vital for Tennessee's economy. The death tax drives capital and economic growth out of the state. Moreover, as a matter of justice, assets subject to the death tax have already been taxed, often more than once, and should not be taxed again when a person dies. Ultimately the death tax should be abolished.
Of local interest, the budget proposes $3 million to plan a $60 million science lab at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and the state would help fund a $23 million veterans community living center in Bradley County.
The governor has proposed a sensible, slimmed-down budget for difficult economic times.