KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is delivering his fifth State of the State Address Monday night.
Gov. Lee is expected to discuss issues such as healthcare, education and transportation. State lawmakers are divided over where they think the state stands in terms of progress.
State Representative Jason Zachary said Tennessee is improving education funding, while Representative Gloria Johnson said the state is still lagging behind others.
“Last year we took an unprecedented step to put $1 billion dollars in new reoccurring money into education, so Knox County ends up getting about $55 million more per year,” Zachary said.
He also said republicans are planning on addressing the third grade retention bill by holding hearings with teachers and administrators in the coming weeks.
Johnson said Tennessee is behind on education improvements compared to other states, and that teachers are making less than what they were 10 years ago based on cost of living.
“He wants to talk about this funding and education, but we’re still the bottom of the barrel. He wants to talk about a raise for teachers, teachers this year will only get about a $50 a month raise,” Johnson said.
Transportation is another issue that’s been a hot topic among Tennesseans as traffic increases.
“Related to infrastructure, we’ve got a $26 billion backlog. That’s something we need to speed that process up,” Zachary said. “Additionally, if you’ve driven down I-40, or down Kingston Pike, or Northshore in Knox County, we have significant issues.”
Johnson agrees that traffic has become a huge issue, but thinks that federal money was poorly distributed between roads and other problems in the state, specifically HIV research and prevention funding.
“$5 billion of that is specifically going to go to roads, and then they say that’s not enough,” Johnson said.
“So, I’m trying to figure out when is it okay to take federal dollars, and when is it okay to leave them on the table? It seems like they’re fine to leave dollars on the table when it comes to Tennesseans’ health.”
Healthcare is another issue that Gov. Lee is expected to address, and Johnson says that some of the decisions he has made are making people in the state less safe.
“We’re number one in the nation, or close to it, in maternal mortality and infant mortality… in people without insurance, without access to insurance because we haven’t expanded Medicaid,” Johnson said.
Zachary says a block grant they got through Medicaid for the TennCare program has helped them expand coverage.
“From the cost savings we get from doing things the Tennessee way, we’re actually able to take that additional money and put it back into the healthcare system. We’ve been able to increase dental benefits and other things within the Medicaid program,” Zachary said.
Gov. Lee is also expected to address issues like abortion and the environment. The address will be given at the Tennessee State Capitol on Feb. 6.