published Friday, February 6th, 2009

Tennessee: Bredesen says stimulus could prevent state job cuts

NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen said Thurdsay night he may be able to avoid state employee layoffs under the federal stimulus package winding its way through Congress.

“I’m certain that the federal money is going to change things significantly,” the governor told Tennessee Press Association members.

He said if provisions in the U.S. Senate version of the bill come close to mirroring what the U.S. House passed last week, the up to 2,300 jobs he has been talking about eliminating “could well be zero.”

“An that would give me great pleasure,” he said.

Gov. Bredesen said Thursday night that despite the expected flood of federal stimulus funds for Tennessee, the “reality is that we will still need to make some difficult and painful cuts.”

The U.S. House version of President Barack Obama’s proposed stimulus package, still pending in the U.S. Senate, contains an estimated $3.8 billion in new funds for Tennessee. The fund packages range from some $613 million to boost highway spending to $224.9 million for increased Title I spending on poorer school children.

The governor cautioned that the money, if approved in final congressional action, would flow over a two-year period. He cited the difficulties the nation and Tennessee have faced as a recession prompted the worst revenue drops in recorded history and forced his administration to consider cutting as much as $900 million in spending — about 15 percent for most departments.

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The governor, with the concurrence of legislative leaders this week, decided to postpone presenting the budget until it becomes known what Congress will do with the stimulus package. The budget may not be acted on until March.

Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, told TPA members that the challenge is “how we use this money that comes down in a way that’s helpful today, but doesn’t create a big problem next year or the year thereafter.”

House Minority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said federal officials want the state to use one-time money over the course of two years for recurring needs, which he called an “interesting challenge.”

And former Sen. Bob Rochelle, D-Lebanon, who led an unsuccessful effort to pass a state income tax during the last economic downturn, warned that “it really could be Death Valley in Tennessee in two years” if the state uses one-time federal money to smooth over recurring spending issues.

Mr. Rochelle predicted 2010 gubernatorial candidates will run “promising to solve all your problems without new taxes.”

In other remarks, Gov. Bredesen pointed to his work to open the state budgeting process by offering public meetings with departments heads. He pledged to continue to “make government more transparent to all Tennesseans.”

He said the Office of Open Records’ counsel has “helped open access to local governments” for news media and taxpayers. He cited timelines the office has developed on providing information although, “I will acknowledge that the system isn’t yet perfect.”

He said the state is working on a new Web portal that would eventually include making up-to-date state expenditures easily accessible.

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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