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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, front, is applauded as he arrives to deliver his annual State of the State address to the Legislature Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, in Nashville.
There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they're being recognized in significant ways across the country."

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday night promised to move "full speed ahead" in serving Tennessee taxpayers, touted the state's successes and laid out a defense of high state education standards in his annual State of the State address to the General Assembly.

"I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways," he told the joint convention of the House and Senate. "There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they're being recognized in significant ways across the country."

The governor defended the state's high education standards for students even as those standards are expected to come under attack from many fellow Republicans in the GOP-dominated General Assembly.

"It doesn't really matter what we call our standards. What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible," Haslam said.

Haslam received a standing ovation as he outlined putting aside nearly $100 million in a pool for teacher pay raises.

The governor began and ended his speech by noting the defeat of his Insure Tennessee proposal in a special session just last week. The proposal called for using federal Medicaid funds to extend health insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

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"Last week, the decision was made not to move forward with Insure Tennessee. However, that does not mean the issues around health care go away," Haslam told the state's lawmakers Monday. "Too many Tennesseans are still not getting health coverage they need in the right way, in the right place, at the right time."

Health care costs are still "eating up too much of our state's budget and impacting the federal deficit and nation's debt," Haslam said. "According to the Congressional Budget Office, if we maintained health care costs at their current levels, which we know are inflated, for the next eight years -- just kept them flat -- we'd eliminate the nation's deficit. To do that, we can't keep doing what we have been doing.

"So," Haslam said, "though the special session has ended, I hope we can find a way to work together to address those problems."

Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, said later Monday night that Haslam hit the right notes in talking about Insure Tennessee.

"It was something I felt that he had to acknowledge. But he didn't beat the Legislature up over the defeat of it. He did say something to the effect that now it's time to move on and let's take care of business," Howell said.

He said he also liked the governor's emphasis on education.

"I believe that the most important thing we do up here on the Hill is educate the children of Tennessee, because without it you don't have workforce development, you don't have economic development, industrial recruitment, and your quality of life goes away," Howell said.

Howell said he was "especially pleased" by the $100 million proposed for teacher pay raises.

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Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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