Bloated Tennessee budget offers plenty of places to cut

Bloated Tennessee budget offers plenty of places to cut

January 30th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Tennessee's Republicans have long claimed that, if they were in control, they would cut hundreds of millions of dollars of waste from the state budget. With a supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature and a bloated budget before them, they now have the chance to prove it.

The $32.6 billion budget that Gov. Bill Haslam proposed during Monday's annual State of the State address is easily the largest in state history. That mind-numbing figure is equal to $13,281 in state spending for every household in Tennessee.

To say that all of the $32.6 billion will be spent well would be a lie. In fact, a closer look at the state budget shows taxpayers' money supporting programs that are proven failures, funding outrageous pork projects and subsidizing programs that should not be the business of state government.

Perhaps the most infuriating example of wasted tax dollars in the proposed Tennessee budget is a $6 million slush fund that Haslam has set aside for state lawmakers to squander as they see fit. There's little doubt that this money will find its way to projects in the districts of powerful lawmakers and serve to seek favor with local voters.

An exhaustive state-issued study released last year proved that the state's pre-kindergarten program, which was begun by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, provides no long-term benefit to its students. That didn't prevent Haslam from earmarking $93.2 million to pay for the failing program for another year.

No state programs have been under more scrutiny by auditors recently than the state's film incentive scheme and the FastTrack Infrastructure Development and Job Training Assistance program. State audits have shown that both programs are responsible for misspending millions of tax dollars and provide little, if any, return on investment for taxpayers.

Still, the budget includes $13.4 million for handouts to Hollywood and $10.5 million for the FastTrack corporate welfare program.

Other examples of questionable spending in the newly proposed Tennessee state budget include:

• A $1 million subsidy to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

• A $500,000 grant to the Knoxville Botanical Garden & Arboretum.

• A $500,000 giveaway to the new Chattanooga History Museum (which may or may not ever actually open).

• A $253,000 payment to help the Rocky Mount state historic site in Washington County acquire additional land.

• A $200,000 handout to Watkins College for Art, Design, and Film -- a private art school in Nashville.

• A $100,000 gift to help renovate the Jackson Theater in Jonesborough.

The frivolous spending of Tennesseans' hard-earned dollars doesn't end there.

According to the budget, the governor hopes to shell out $3.8 million to landscape the State Capitol, squander $6.4 million subsidizing the arts, and fritter away $11 million for tourism ads, brochures and other promotional items and events.

State taxpayers are also on the hook for a $100,000 subsidy to the NCAA Women's Basketball Final Four, which will be held in Nashville next year.

Taken alone, each of these examples may seem like just a drop in the bucket. But if fiscally conservative state lawmakers worked to reduce or eliminate examples of wasteful, questionable and unnecessary spending, it would add up quickly.

In fact, if state leaders reduced the state budget by just 1 percent this year, the state's sales tax on groceries -- the highest such tax in America -- could be eliminated.

When it comes to trimming fat in the state budget and creating a leaner, more efficient state government, Republicans in the Volunteer State have spent years talking the talk.

Now, with the GOP in control over every aspect of state government and a state budget crammed full of pork, boondoggles, ineffective programs and unnecessary projects, it's time for Tennessee Republicans to walk the walk.