Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he ordered a 45-day freeze in new state regulations while the administration reviews the operations of state government.
“Before we add any other rule or regulation that would impact any citizen or business, let’s just hold off,” Haslam said at a news conference after meeting with his Cabinet for the first time as governor.
“I think we’re fine for now. We have a lot of rules and regulations out there. Let’s see the impact of what we’re doing now. It’ll be part of the top-to-bottom review, and I think it sends a message to folks as well. We’re trying to make it easier for people to live, work and play in Tennessee while we respect the responsibilities that we have.”
Haslam said his review of the government would be conducted by his commissioners with the assistance of outside business executives and others, whom he said he would name later. He said he would hold public hearings on the next state budget at the end of the month. He is to submit his budget recommendation by March 1.
Haslam also defended his first executive order, which eliminated the requirements for the governor and top aides to disclose how much they earn in outside income.
Haslam insisted that the amounts of money aren’t important. It’s enough for the public to know the sources of outside income and private investments for government officials, he said.
“It’s consistent with what I said all through the campaign,” Haslam said. “It’s important that everybody understand where your sources of income and where your investments are. I didn’t think the amount mattered. I was real clear about that during the campaign. Obviously, there was a whole lot of discussion. In the end, I think the people of Tennessee were comfortable with my position.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester criticized the governor this week, saying, “Our government should be more transparent and open, not less.”
Asked whether he was keeping his promise to hold state government “to the highest ethical standard,” Haslam said:
“I think it is the highest ethical standard. We’re telling everybody exactly what we own. I don’t think the next step of telling exactly what the amount is makes a difference. I’m not certain what it adds to the process. I think it’s really important where. How much, I’m just not certain what difference that makes.
“This is no different than what I’ve been saying for over actually the last 16 months. Everybody in the state of Tennessee was pretty aware. Every one of you wrote an article about it and covered it. I don’t think there was anything new. We’re going to work to be consistent.”
Haslam said he emphasized the importance of ethical conduct during his Cabinet meeting.
“I said an easy way to maybe not be at the table anymore was to be a person who showed arrogance toward your responsibilities. The other is to not hold yourself up according to the highest ethical standards.”
During the governor’s race last year, Haslam refused to say how much he earned from the family-owned Pilot Corp. chain of convenience stores and truck stops.
Haslam announced Tuesday he has placed some of his private business investments in a blind trust. The major exceptions are his undisclosed share of Pilot and a real estate holding outside Tennessee. In addition, the governor will not take a state salary.