Bredesen Spending Plan Advances To Senate

On June 12, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

Second Budget Proposal Does Not Remove Funding For State To Acquire Land For Megasite
June 12, 2009

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Phil Bredesen’s spending plan was sent to the full Senate on Friday with the deletion of some proposed cuts by Republican lawmakers.

Video: Budget Could Wound Poison Control, Child Care Services

The measure carried by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis was approved 6-4 along party lines by the Senate Finance Committee and was to be on the Senate floor Tuesday.

“We have expedited those cuts as opposed to letting agencies work through those cuts in an efficient way just like you would,” said Kyle. “We’re using an axe or a meat cleaver, if you would, and just cut them off.”

A GOP proposal, first released earlier this week, had included the removal of funding for the state to acquire land for a West Tennessee megasite that would be used to attract large manufacturers and more jobs to the state, as well as funding for social programs ranging from HIV/AIDS to providing child care for people at risk of becoming eligible for welfare.

Funding for the megasite and HIV/AIDS were two of the items that Republicans decided not to cut.

Their proposal leaves in place Bredesen’s plan to spend federal stimulus money to build a solar generation plant at the site near Brownsville.

However, it scuttles the governor’s plan to use stimulus money to establish a solar research institute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and makes cuts in other areas, such as funding for studies on women’s health and infant mortality.

Kyle, who voted against the measure even though he sponsored it, said some of the changes make the proposal “more palatable, but not palatable enough to vote for it.”

Jim Shulman, the state Health Department’s deputy commissioner, said the HIV/AIDS program affects about 900 people and he’s glad it’s remaining, but he’s concerned about other programs.

“Anytime you start taking away funding from any of the programs, you start affecting people,” Shulman said. “It’s a difficult time anyway. A lot of people are coming to the Health Department than have ever come to us before.”

Democrats objected to several accelerated cuts — such as terminating the state’s poison control center — and the shifting of funding for the governor’s pre-kindergarten program to the state’s lottery reserves.

“We take the worry away from the parent,” said Dr. Donna Seger of the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt, which answered more than 128,000 calls last year. “We tell them if they have to take the child into the hospital. Then we call the hospital and let the hospital know the child is coming, what our concerns are and help with the medical treatment.”

Some state lawmakers want to cut $375,000 from the budget, which would cause it to close its doors.

“If the money from the state is gone, that also is going to mean the federal money is gone as well. I mean, there aren’t any options,” said Seger. “We’re either open or we’re not.”

Bredesen has proposed shifting about $25 million currently drawn from the state’s lottery proceeds to the state’s general fund budget.

As for the Republicans’ overall plan, Bredesen said Thursday that “elements of it were stupid.”

But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said Friday the additional proposed cuts are “the reality of the situation we’re in.”

“It’s very painful, it’s very difficult,” Norris said. “But we cut over a billion dollars and I’m afraid there’s probably more to be cut.

“We are saying when you proposed those, you thought we had several hundred million dollars more than apparently we do today,” said Norris. “What are we to do with that? He chose these items, and we’re going to go ahead and implement those cuts if the money is not there.”

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said the budget is responsible.

“We passed a budget that uses the basic premise that if you don’t have the money, you don’t spend it,” said the Blountville Republican. “And the worst thing if you don’t have the money is to borrow it.”

Republican House Speaker Kent Williams of Elizabethton has said the House will present its own approach to budget cuts next week, and criticized his Republican colleagues in the Senate for rushing out their additional cuts.

“The administration has been working on the budget for five months, and the Senate comes up with this in one week?” he said.

Reporter Cara Kumari contributed to this story.

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