PRESS RELEASE: Governor Haslam Presents False Choices in Budget Hearings

Communications Workers of American local 3865 | Tennessee’s Public Higher Education Union



Put the People First, Governor Haslam: Education and Healthcare are Both Critical to Tennessee


December 8, 2014
Last week, amidst growing speculation that he will run for President,  Governor Haslam held his annual budget hearings with officials from state agencies and higher education. Throughout the week, and in an interview with Nashville Public Radio, Governor Haslam argued that our state has to choose between providing affordable healthcare or quality, public higher education to Tennesseans.


“These are false choices. Tennesseans desperately need high quality public education and affordable healthcare,” said United Campus Workers (UCW) Executive Board member and UT Knoxville employee Thomas Walker.  “The governor and General Assembly always seem to find money to give themselves pay raises and give hundreds of millions in tax breaks to big corporations. The real choice we have to make is between subsidizing billionaires or assisting Tennesseans most in need of help – students, higher education employees, Tennesseans without healthcare coverage.”


The poorest 20% of Tennesseans pay 11.2% of their income in taxes while the richest 1% only pay 2.8%. The poorest Tennesseans pay a disproportionate amount of their income in taxes, yet the Governor remains determined to cut services that benefit them the most.


Since 2008 Governor Haslam and his friends at the Capitol have raised tuition for students and slashed wages for university workers with $200 million in cuts to higher education. They locked in these cuts and tied future funding to poor metrics of educational achievement. Despite misgivings, students and educators rose to the challenge and met many of the new criteria, yet Governor Haslam further slashed higher education in his 2015 budget.


The Governor’s mean-spirited attempt to pit education against healthcare also ignores the fact that Tennessee has lost over $842 million dollars in the last year because the Governor refused federal funding to expand Medicaid. The true cost of this isn’t best measured in dollars, but in the human cost as low-income Tennesseans are forced to choose between doctors’ appointments and groceries.


“Graduate assistants work hard every day at the University of Memphis, yet we make poverty wages. Some earn as little as $9,000 a year.. Many graduate assistants can’t afford to buy healthcare out of pocket, the University doesn't offer it, and because the Governor refused Medicaid funding, many graduate students don’t even benefit from the Affordable Care Act. The Governor claims to care about education, but as a graduate student, I certainly don't feel prioritized.” said Josh Dohmen, a graduate student at the University of Memphis.


“I don’t see how a hospital closing in Haywood County because of the Governor’s refusal of federal Medicaid funding is beneficial for higher education,” said Tom Anderson, UCW President and UT Knoxville employee. "We need Governor Haslam to explain how bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into Tennessee is bad for the state.  It just doesn't make sense.  My family is from coal country. They worked hard their whole lives, suffering without healthcare, all because the Governor is using his own citizens' lives as bargaining chips.”

Anderson continues, “Tennessee has finite resources, no one is arguing that point, but the governor’s false dichotomy hides the real question: how can we use our finite resources to serve the needs of all Tennesseans. Our answer is that Governor Haslam needs to put the people first. Our state needs living wage jobs, high-quality, public education, affordable health care, and respect for our democratic rights to vote, organize, and exercise our constitutional freedoms.”


Resources: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, January 2013:

Governor Haslam Looks Like Presidential Contender:




Members available to be interviewed - For more information, please contact:

Cassie Watters

United Campus Workers