published Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Lawmakers point fingers on budget impasse

Audio clip

Jim Kyle

NASHVILLE -- Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle on Tuesday pitched a budget plan generated in part through some bipartisan House discussions, but Senate Republicans balked while also declining to push forward with their own proposal.

"We're being rope-a-doped here," Sen. Kyle, of Memphis, later complained to reporters, charging Republicans "won't put anything up to vote. It's very frustrating for the members and for the public at large."

Asked why Senate Republicans, who have a 19-14 majority, don't move, Budget Subcommittee Chairman Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, accused Democrats of playing their own budget games.

"We've done that (gone first) in the past, and it just leaves us open for attacks, and I don't think they (his GOP colleagues) are willing to do that this time," Sen. Burchett said.

When Republicans put out a plan, he said, "they start picking it apart. We're against taxes and all of a sudden it gets turned around and the spin happens."

The plan presented by Sen. Kyle in one respect acquiesces to the Senate Republican plan and rejects most of the tax increases proposed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. But it also takes $142.7 million more from state reserves than Gov. Bredesen has outlined, leaving about $359.7 million by June 30, 2011, instead of the $502.4 million proposed by the governor.

Senate Republicans have opposed taking more money out of reserves.

The plan presented by Sen. Kyle trims Gov. Bredesen's proposed 3 percent one-time "bonus" for state workers, teachers and higher education employees from $113 million to about $75 million or 2 percent, resulting in a one-time payment of $800 for workers.

Senate Republicans and many House Republicans believe the bonus should be eliminated entirely because of revenue problems.

The Kyle-presented plan also maintains recurring funding for the Career Ladder supplemental pay program that benefits many teachers, Deputy Gov. John Morgan told the Senate Budget Subcommittee earlier Tuesday. Mr. Morgan emphasized it is not the administration's plan but indicated the governor could be open to it.

No second on the plan was made in the Budget Subcommittee. The panel adjourned until Monday, setting up the likelihood that lawmakers won't finish the budget next week, either.

Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker Kent Williams charged that election-year politics and Senate Republicans' belief the party will win Tennessee's governorship are behind GOP members' refusal to avoid making additional budget cuts by dipping further into the state's reserves.

"They're just trying to protect the next Republican governor," Rep. Williams, an Elizabethton independent, told reporters.

Senate Republicans are led by Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey, who is running for governor in a three-man contest.

Rep. Williams said there are enough votes in the House to pass the plan presented by Sen. Kyle. There are 50 Republicans, Rep. Williams and 48 Democrats.

"It's not that hard of a process if we keep the politics out of it," Rep. Williams said. "It's pretty simple. If you're running it like a business you can get it done in a couple of hours."

Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, chairman of the full Senate Finance Committee, dismissed Rep. Williams' assertion about Republicans seeking to help a Republican to succeed Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat who is term limited from running again.

"It is an effort to help state government down the line," he said.

Lawmakers don't know how strong the economic recovery will be, and there are fears there could be a "double-dip" recession, Sen. McNally said.

Noting state revenues continued to plunge for 22 months until last month, Sen. McNally said, "if I had a ball team that had lost 22 games and won one, I wouldn't say we turned it around."

Sen. Burchett, meanwhile, said he thinks the problem has "more to do with personalities than ... with anything else." He then lashed out at provisions in the proposals presented by Sen. Kyle and the governor that contain a $16.1 million provision to build a fish hatchery in Rep. Williams' district. It would be funded by federal stimulus money if Congress approves an extension of enhanced Medicaid matching funds.

Rep. Williams countered the hatchery, which would provide 22 jobs, also would generate large amounts of tourism for his county.

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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