One of the most difficult, sensitive challenges our public officials face — or carelessly refuse to face — in national, state and local governments is taxing and spending.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has accepted his responsibility for sound financial leadership by proposing a $30.2 billion state budget that calls for the fourth consecutive year of belt-tightening.
Both private individuals and government enjoy economic booms that enable us to spend and not feel economic pressure. But reality in the current trying times calls for uncomfortable cuts in state spending.
The federal government long has borrowed, spent and increased our national debt too much. Our state can’t, and shouldn’t, follow suit. So now, with some of that “free federal money” from the failed $862 billion “stimulus” program no longer available to the states, Haslam reasonably has proposed a 5.6 percent reduction in spending — avoiding a tax increase. (Don’t you sometimes wonder why anyone asks for the difficult job of meeting essential needs and making tough economic choices while seeking to avoid tax increases on our people?)
In Tennessee government, our biggest spending is for education, as it should be. Forty-two cents of every dollar goes to education. Additionally, under Haslam’s plan, health and social services would get 29 cents. Then there would be 9 cents for law, safety and corrections. Cities and counties would get 7 cents, transportation 7 cents, resources and regulations 3 cents, general government 2 cents, and business and economic development 1 cent.
Where will the money come from? The sales tax will produce most of it — 54 cents of each dollar raised. Other sources will be 13 cents from franchise and excise taxes, 7 cents from gasoline taxes, 5 cents from insurance and banking taxes, 5 cents from gross receipts and privilege taxes, 3 cents from tobacco and alcohol taxes, 2 cents from motor vehicle taxes, 2 cents from income and inheritance taxes, and 9 cents from a variety of other levies.
To avoid taxing more, Haslam proposes painful cuts in spending. For example, he would fund 1,180 fewer state jobs, many through attrition.
Cuts are rarely popular, but Tennesseans should applaud the governor for providing sound economic leadership for our state in this challenging time.