published Friday, May 7th, 2010

Senate GOP hopes to sell House on cuts

Audio clip

Ron Ramsey

NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Thursday he and fellow Senate Republicans have settled on cuts as their answer to additional revenue shortfalls and hope to sell House leaders on specifics in the next several days.

"I think we've reached a consensus on the Republican side of where we are on this and to make cuts instead of increasing taxes," said Lt. Gov. Ramsey, who is the Senate speaker.

The Blountville Republican, who is running for governor, said he hopes to have something out by the first of next week. But he isn't publicly putting out specifics, saying, "the next step we want is kind of move with our cohorts in the House ... just leadership, four or five of us, get together."

That could include one or two Democrats as well as House Republicans, Lt. Gov. Ramsey said, noting he hopes to "get out of here (legislative session) in a week or so and not have a major disagreement before we unveil a plan."

"I just want to kind of pass this (proposal) around, bounce it around, see where everybody is and make sure we can get relatively close to begin with," he said.

Senate Republicans have spent several weeks crafting an alternative to Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen's recent proposal to raise an additional $85 million by lifting a sales tax cap on big-ticket items.

Republicans also are rejecting about $50 million to $65 million in other tax or fee increases Gov. Bredesen has proposed to avoid additional cuts to employees and services.

The senators were to have unveiled their plan two weeks ago but have worked to ensure their members are on board with a workable alternative. They also appear to be wary about offering their plan up publicly.

Last year when Senate Republicans released a plan to accelerate cuts, Gov. Bredesen denounced it as "stupid" because it included a proposed industrial development megasite and a solar-power farm.

Gov. Bredesen told reporters earlier this week he is basically open to hearing out GOP proposals although he ruled out cutting education.

"I've got lots of strong preferences, but I'm not going to take things off the table or start pounding stakes into the ground," Gov. Bredesen said. "Let's see what other people have, and let's see if we can't find some common ground."

The GOP has a 19-14 Senate majority. But in the House, they have only a 51-46 edge and a House speaker, Kent Williams, who was bounced from the GOP and became an independent after he let Democrats elect him when the House's margins were tighter.

House Assistant Republican Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said, "I think the Senate Republicans need to hurry up and give us their idea of what they want to do. We've all agreed to use that as a starting point, and they need to get us to the starting point. And we're getting impatient on the House side to hear from them."

House Finance Committee Chairman Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said of Senate Republicans' plan that "I think that's the one card that's not on the table yet and we need to see that card before we start shuffling the deck so we're just sort of on hold."

In the House, Democrats, Speaker Williams and some Republicans have talked about dipping more into the state's still-hefty reserve funds to deal with shortfalls. Senate Republicans have resisted.

But at least for now, all sides are talking about finding, as Gov. Bredesen put it, some sort of common ground.

"I think everybody's going to have to give and take a little between cuts, reserves and removing (tax) exemptions or revenue enhancements, whatever you want to call them," Rep. Fitzhugh said.

Rep. McCormick said, "I think there is a consensus that everybody has to give -- with the exception of some of the tax increases the governor has proposed. I don't think there's a mood to compromise on some of those."

But he said the GOP might agree on "possibly going a little further into reserves. There are probably some other areas too as far as budget cuts go."

Lt. Gov. Ramsey indicated Senate Republicans may be open to using some reserves in addition to cuts, saying, "I think that's where you'll end up seeing a blending in the end." He acknowledged the state also will need to use some reserves to deal with recent flooding across the middle and western parts of the state.

When asked about Senate Republicans intentions, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said, "I haven't seen it. I look forward to seeing it. Hope I can vote for it."

He said dealing with the flood's aftermath might complicate use of reserves.

about Andy Sher...

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, ...

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