Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lawmakers must tell Bredesen 'no' this week

The surprising revolt last week at Legislative Plaza over Gov. Phil Bredesen's cram-down budget proposal has provided a unique opportunity for taxpayers to finally get to the bottom of things in how state government operates and spends their money.

State financial guru Dave Goetz was grilled before a legislative committee and left a lot of questions unanswered about the fiscal worth of the jobs cuts for 2,000 state workers. And yet to be examined in adequate fashion are the TennCare cuts and the real cost to the state if we allow more families to sink into poverty from mounting medical bills. Won't they then consume more social services' dollars?

There seemed to be a consensus among those of us on This Week with Bob Mueller -- Bob, the Rev. Enoch Fuzz, Steve Gill and myself -- that a lot of questions remain to be answered by Bredesen and Goetz. And amid our amazement at the revolt, there is the realization that this moment of crisis could yield some interesting light on areas of the state budget and spending that have purposely been kept hidden from taxpayers.

Toward more light, lawmakers led by House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh on Tuesday should tell Bredesen "no" on his cram-down budget. If politically possible, they should offer Bredesen passage of an emergency standstill budget for one month of state operations. Then they should ask the governor to convene a special legislative session to pass a budget based on answers to all questions. I sure hope that lawmakers would not balk at further examination because they would not get paid. Let's write a Profiles in Courage here.

As it stands now, Bredesen's budget is balanced on the backs of the working poor with the cuts to state workers and TennCare. Rev. Fuzz tells me that he has many state workers in his congregation at Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. And they head households existing on just $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

Rising medical bills can turn any family into almost paupers. I can testify to that from personal experience. My leukemia and the loss of my job at The Tennessean have left our family scrambling, and we're better off than families needing TennCare help. (For purposes of full disclosure, I've never been on TennCare nor has any member of my family.)

Meanwhile, Bredesen proposes to keep a $100 million economic development fund to reward mega-corporations and won't dip into the Rainy Day Fund that is at a record level. Contrary to rumor, I can officially dispel any truth to the whispers that Bredesen won't touch the Rainy Day Fund because of his wife. There are NOT -- to my limited knowledge -- plans by the First Lady to build a mega-mall under the governor's mansion to adjoin the bunker. The "We Will Prevail" Mall of Tennessee is not real, I think. (Caution to readers: this paragraph is mostly satire, which is an exaggeration of reality -- I hope.)

The governor expected state lawmakers to swallow his last-minute, cram-down budget, just like the Metro Council did with his projects that turned out to be losers for taxpayers. Incredibly, however, Democratic lawmakers revolted. Now you must call their offices and encourage them to keep up the fight and not accept another Bredesen boondoggle.

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