Hamilton County commissioners found out Monday that "no" means "no" when it comes to taking money from the county's rainy day fund.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger, in a first for him, unapologetically vetoed the amended budget the commission approved last week that included $900,000 in discretionary funds that would be pulled from reserves.
"They just reached out and took it," the mayor said in a signing ceremony on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Commissioners apparently have 20 days to sustain or override his veto.
This page is hopeful commissioners will heed Coppinger's bold step and sustain the veto. Although all commissioners — Coppinger includes himself in this — have used discretionary funds to fund worthy school or community projects, they did so when the availability of county funds made that spending easier.
The mayor said Monday — and has said before — this year's budget was reached after exhaustive work by his financial staff, by trimming "millions" of dollars in requests for highly desirable projects in public safety, public education and public works, and by consultation with financial and bond agencies.
To alter that in light of the work done to create a balanced budget, a budget with which commissioners in general seemed to have no problem, and to do so without public discussion seems unnecessarily reckless.
The goal, after all, was a budget with no tax increase, a goal Coppinger rightly believes most taxpayers want, and a continuation of what he called "responsible government."
If the veto is sustained, commissioners are free to make their individual requests before the commission and let the chips fall where they may. That's the way it happens in almost every other Tennessee county.
But if the veto is overridden, and it will take only a simple majority to do so, individual district projects would seem to have more importance than the county as a whole.
That's where Coppinger draws the line.
"I'm willing to put my political capital out there [for that stance]," he said.