What makes Tennessee different? According to Gov. Bill Haslam, the Volunteer State is different because it doesn't operate like Washington, D.C.
Haslam spent a substantial portion of Monday's State of the State address taking shots at the federal government. It was at the same time a cheap ploy and a brilliant stroke.
After all, if there's one thing that unites most Tennesseans, it's a shared dislike of national politics. Current Congressional approval ratings are barely ahead of clogged toilets, and just behind head lice, and Haslam certainly exploited that fact.
When stripped of its legitimate, but overplayed, insults of Congress and the president, Haslam's third State of the State address offered some encouraging ideas for Tennessee.
The state budget, because of a mix of unnecessary state spending and federal handouts, has increased $1.3 billion in the past two years. Since state government is taking more in taxes than ever before, it's only fair to propose larger tax cuts than ever before. And that's what Haslam has done.
As part of the state's recommended $32.6 billion budget, Haslam pledged to lower the sales tax on groceries a quarter percent -- to five percent. It's better than nothing. But barely. The move will save the average Tennessean a whopping $3.40 per year.
Given the growth of the state government, and better-than-expected state revenue numbers, a full repeal of the grocery tax would have been appropriate and appreciated.
Fortunately, the tax reduction proposals didn't end with the piddly grocery tax cut. Haslam pledged to continue on the path of phasing out the state's inheritance tax and reducing the Hall income tax. Both taxes deter job creators and retirees from living in Tennessee.
In his address, Haslam boasted about increasing education funding 12 percent. Any education policy analyst worth his salt will point out that there is almost no empirical relationship between education funding and student outcomes. As a result, much of this money will be ineffective at improving education.
Thankfully, several of Haslam's proposals are likely to work wonders for students.
As the governor pointed out, the state's teacher tenure process has been overhauled so that there is now a five-year period before teachers are considered for tenure. In addition, the cap on the number of charter schools has been eliminated in the state, allowing more students to go to public schools that more effectively meet their needs.
Perhaps the biggest news of the night was Haslam's commitment to creating a school choice program to allow low-income students in the state's lowest performing schools to attend a public or private school that gives them a better chance of success.
Not all of the proposals in Haslam's State of the State address were perfect. Offering across-the-board raises to state employees at a time when so many Tennesseans are out of work and struggling to make ends meet will undoubtedly strike many as tone deaf. A plan to pour more tax dollars into the state's tourism efforts -- even though, year after year, tourism programs offer poor returns on investment for taxpayers -- also seemed out of place.
Still, Haslam's proposals to lower taxes and improve opportunities in education are positive steps for our state.