State budget cuts of $1.5B are looming, Norris warns

On August 20, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

By Toby Sells | Memphis Commercial Appeal
August 20, 2010

Tennessee’s budget will likely need a cut close to $1.5 billion next year, according to a local lawmaker, though an administration official claims the figure is much lower.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said the budget is headed for a cliff in a Thursday speech to the Mid-South Medical Group Management Association. The problem, he said, is that one-time federal stimulus dollars won’t be available next year.

“Some people don’t call it ‘the cliff’ anymore; they call it ‘the abyss,'” Norris said.

Nearly $2 billion in nonrecurring funds helped Tennessee’s 2010-2011 budget recover from recession-related revenue shortfalls, Norris said. When legislators head back to Nashville in January, Norris said they’ll have about $173 million in these nonrecurring funds.

Michael Drescher, spokesman for Gov. Phil Bredesen, said the budget has a deficit of only about $185 million and that lawmakers have already made significant spending cuts, trimming about $1.5 billion over the past three years.

“Those cuts have already been made and Norris was part of the solution there,” Drescher said, noting that Norris voted for last year’s budget. “The cuts are not out there ahead of us. They are in the rear-view mirror.”

Still, Norris warned that many state-funded agencies or employees who were saved by stimulus funds this year may not be aware that they are still slated to be dismissed next year.

“So, there is a suspension of disbelief of what must be done and what will be done,” Norris said.

Drescher said stimulus funds did allow the state to put off canceling some programs, though they will be cut when the money runs out.

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