NASHVILLE — With the national economy slumping, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has told his department heads to draw up 2009-2010 plans for an “ugly” budget that slashes spending by 10 percent or more.
“We’re not going to get in bankrupt shape,” Gov. Bredesen said. “We’re going to make the cuts that it takes to stay healthy and move forward and get through this.”
According to administration estimates, Tennessee faces a revenue shortfall of between $515 million and $780 million, and possibly more, by June 30.
Tennessee is one of 41 states that face budget shortfalls in the current fiscal year or the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Georgia faces a current-year shortfall of at least $1.8 billion, according to the center.
Gov. Bredesen’s remarks, made earlier this week to reporters, came as he prepares for Monday, when he begins two weeks of public budget hearings. Underscoring the seriousness of the state’s financial situation, Gov. Bredesen canceled plans to lead a meeting on Friday of his Task Force on Energy Policy in order to focus on the budget.
The governor has said he plans to use a combination of spending cuts and part of the state’s $750 million rainy day reserve fund to offset the shortfall. But making the cuts in the 2009-2010 budget will require permanent spending reductions.
Gov. Bredesen previously ordered state departments to prepare cuts of 3 percent. But he said if the state faces an $800 million deficit in the current fiscal year, “we’re going to have to go beyond that.”
Some departments may be affected more than others.
“We need to keep people in jail,” the governor said. “I can’t get rid of people who staff the prisons, for example. I’m going to try to make education whole. But to make a budget like that work, you’re probably going to have to have cuts that are in the range of 10 percent or slightly greater across the board in different kinds of departments.”
The chairman of Hamilton County’s legislative delegation, Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said lawmakers will examine the governor’s proposals closely.
“I’m sure there’s no sentiment out there to increase taxes,” Rep. McCormick said. “We’re just going to have to make choices and make cuts.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers whacked $468 million out of Gov. Bredesen’s originally proposed 2008-09 budget, which went into effect July 1.
Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, a House Finance Committee member, said that as cuts come, “I will be there doing battle for children and poor and middle-class families.
“We have to try to protect them,” she said. “Maybe that’s socialism, but I suspect God might be a socialist, particularly Jesus Christ when he stopped to feed the multitudes.”
In addition to the state’s $750 million rainy day fund, Tennessee also has an estimated $500 million in TennCare reserves. The governor has said he does not intend to spend all the state’s combined $1.25 billion in reserves this year.
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, ...