KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Governor Haslam stopped in Knoxville Friday, to speak before the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce about state improvements that have been made since he’s been in office and to lay out his future plans.
Topping his priorities remains passing the Improve Act, which would increase the state’s gas tax by seven cents to fund hundreds of much-needed infrastructure projects.
“Everyone is recognizing we have to do something,” Gov. Haslam said. “We’re getting half as much as we used to for something that costs twice as much and that doesn’t work for the state of Tennessee to continue to maintain roads and bridges in the safe way that everyone wants us to.”
Gov. Haslam said Knox County alone has $504 million in backlogged road projects and $10 billion across Tennessee. He said it’s become an issue that can no longer be ignored if the state wants to continue to grow and move forward.
The governor also said he’s often asked why he does not use the state’s surplus for infrastructure projects as opposed to the gas tax. His answer: the surplus is temporary and would not cover the $10 billion backlog.
“What it will mean for this area is $500 million worth of projects,” Gov. Haslam said. “Roads like Alcoa Highway that they’ve been talking about fixing since I was a little boy. It will also mean a lot more local money for roads for city and county residents.”
Under the Improve Act, the city of Knoxville and Knox County would receive $2 million each, per year, to maintain local roads in addition to the $500 million worth of projects.
Another issue confronting East Tennessee is health care, with 40,000 people in the Knoxville area set to lose their insurance provider when Humana leaves the Affordable Care Act next year.
“What we’ve tried to do from the state’s side is we’ve worked as hard as we can to make sure there’d be one provider in every market,” Gov. Haslam said. “Obviously with Humana pulling out, that’s a concern in Knoxville, so we’re having conversations with all of the insurance companies to see what we can do. At the end of the day, though, it’s about that company deciding they want to provide coverage at those rates.”
The governor also took time renewing his commitment to investing in higher education through Tennessee Promise, bringing broadband to the rural areas of the state, and addressing the state’s opioid crisis. He said opioid addition might be the biggest problem confronting Tennesseans.
But the topic looming on many minds remained President Donald Trump. The governor pulled his support for the now president when Mr. Trump was a candidate. Now Governor Haslam said he’s not too surprised with the Trump presidency so far.
“It hasn’t been a dull four weeks but let’s wait and see what comes out of that,” Gov. Haslam said. “He ran as a very different kind of candidate. He’s serving as the kind of candidate he said he would say he be when he ran, so we’re going to have to see how that plays out over time.”