Today is Thursday, August 17, 2017

State meets gold standard for fiscal management

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Bill Haslam

We recently received great news that shows just how well we are managing taxpayers' money in Tennessee.

We received word last month from Standard & Poor's Ratings Services that our state now has a AAA rating, the highest possible standing in the eyes of that ratings agency. It means Tennessee is now a triple triple-A state. The other two ratings agencies, Moody's Investors Services and Fitch Ratings, have given Tennessee their highest ratings since 2010.

The triple triple-A status is the gold standard for any state when it comes to measuring how well it handles its finances.

It means that for the first time since 2000, and only the second time in our state's history, Tennessee has the highest rating possible from all three ratings agencies. We are one of only 11 states to receive that status.

This is exciting for several reasons. In practical terms, the top rating means lower interest rates when the state borrows money, so it will save taxpayer funds. In broader terms, it tells everyone, from businesses thinking of investing in Tennessee to families thinking of relocating here to the businesses and families already here, that we manage our money well in our state. We not only emphasize strong, conservative fiscal management, we practice it, and outside evaluators are noticing.

The ratings are the product of a collaborative effort, including the work of all departments in our administration to manage funds wisely; the commitment of the Tennessee General Assembly to produce a responsible, balanced budget; and the work of our constitutional officers, including Comptroller Justin Wilson, Treasurer David Lillard and Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

But the development with the ratings agencies, as noteworthy as it is, is just one indicator of our strong fiscal performance.

Since we came into office we have more than doubled the state's savings account, commonly called our Rainy Day Fund. We have gone from $257 million in that fund to an estimated $568 million at the end of this fiscal year. We applied another $100 million in our most recent budget to bring the fund to an estimated $668 million.

We have cut more than $500 million in recurring spending; shrunk state government by 10 percent; balanced our budget each year; established the lowest debt per capita in any state; and have no transportation debt. All of this allows us to continue our efforts to provide the best possible service for our citizens at the lowest possible cost.

It is one thing for government officials to say they are managing the state's money well, but when outside interests whose job is to make objective assessments of your performance give you their highest marks, it underscores how well we are performing. Tennesseans expect the highest quality of money management from their state government, and the triple triple-A status from the rating agencies show we are providing it.

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