NASHVILLE — Proposed new state spending such as $10 million for a state fund used to respond quickly to opportunities for preserving land could fall victim today to Gov. Phil Bredesen’s budget knife, a top administration official said.
Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz on Friday declined to say where any of the additional cuts would be made, but he acknowledged all improvements recommended in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s originally submitted 2008-09 are potential candidates for elimination.
“Absolutely everything that we recommended in the budget is on the chopping block,” Mr. Goetz said. “You can’t have this kind of dislocation in the budget process and not have everything considered.”
In a speech this afternoon to lawmakers, Gov. Bredesen is expected to provide further details of how he will cut $468 million from his proposed 2008-09 budget as well as resolve a $314.5 million to $384 million shortfall in the current 2007-08 budget.
The governor already has laid out plans to trim $274 million from the 2008-09 budget. That includes eliminating $86.5 million for continuing a K-12 funding formula reform and $64 million in savings by eliminating 2,011 state workers — a move the governor hopes to accomplish through voluntary buyouts.
Lawmakers are waiting to hear more.
“We have no facts yet; all we got is generalities,” said Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap.
Regarding the buyouts, Rep. Harmon said administration officials “haven’t said what the buyouts are. If it’s $2, nobody’s taking them.”
Gov. Bredesen also has said he intends to scale back a reopening of TennCare’s medical needy program, but no figures have been provided.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the Senate speaker, said his “gut feeling” is that “most” of the governor’s proposed one-time spending in the 2008-09 budget will go by the wayside with savings used to offer the buyout package.
“You’ve got to have a pot of nonrecurring money to make this happen,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said.
Among other things, Gov. Bredesen’s original 2008-09 budget provided $10 million for the Tennessee Heritage Trust Fund, which has been used to increase the state’s land-buying power for conservation purposes.
The budget called for $25.3 million to continue the state’s FastTrack Infrastructure Development Program. The program uses the money for improvements such as water systems in cases where a company has committed to locate or expand existing operations in Tennessee.
“I’m going to leave it up to the governor to decide where he thinks those pots (of money) need to come from,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said. “But at the same time, we’re going to have to pull them from somewhere because we he doesn’t want to touch the Rainy Day fund.”
Gov. Bredesen has ruled out using the state’s $750 million Rainy Day fund, saying he doesn’t know how long the nation’s flagging economy will remain down.
Earlier this year, a more optimistic administration originally proposed dozens of improvements spending tens of millions of dollars in one-time or recurring funding
But since then Tennessee revenues have plummeted. Just last week, the governor abandoned a bill allowing police to take driver’s licenses from DUI suspects because the administrative license procedure would have required $2.4 million to hire 75 new employees.
“There’s a number of things in the legislative arena we’re not going to be able to do,” the governor said, noting it would be “unseemly” to add new employees when seeking to cut 2,011 people.
Still, the governor is not seeking to change statutory requirements that require pay increases for state judges, some assistant district attorneys and assistant public defenders even as state employees face layoffs if his voluntary buyout program does not succeed.
“I did not for example tackle the statutory salary policies,” he acknowledged.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...