Tennessee Lawmakers Question Governor's Budget Cuts

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Tennessee Lawmakers Question Governor's Budget Cuts

CREATED Apr 1, 2014

by Mark Bellinger

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee lawmakers are getting a look at Governor Bill Haslam's new budget proposal.

Tuesday finance committees in the Senate and House listened to proposed cuts including pay raises for teachers and state employees. Tennessee Finance Commissioner Larry Martin briefed members of the Senate and House Finance, Ways and Means Committees at Legislative Plaza.

Monday Haslam announced millions of dollars in cuts to balance budgets this year and next. Two percent pay increases for teachers and 1 percent pay hikes for state employees are on the chopping block angering the Tennessee State Employees Association.

TSEA Executive Director Robert O'Connell said, "The meager one percent raise that we were supposed to get in a year when we've just had a CPI or cost of living increase of 1.5 percent is gone.  It's not fair."

Governor Haslam made teacher raises a priority in January's state of the state address.

Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly, "As we continue to expect more from our students and teachers in academic performance we've also set a goal to be the fastest growing state in the country when it comes to paying our teachers."

The governor added, "So more than $63 million is included for teacher salaries."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville sponsors many of the governor's bills.

Senator Norris said, "I think the General Assembly aspires to be the leading state in the nation in terms of increased teacher compensation, but we have to be mindful of the fact that our constitution requires us to balance the budget."

Democrats like Senate Minority leader Jim Kyle said the state needs to look in other areas before cutting education.

Senator Kyle said, "You know are we committed to this or aren't we?  And we just got to see if there's another way. Phil Bredesen used to talk about the third way. We've got to find a third way."

One way, as suggested by Nashville Democratic Senator Doug Henry, is to use the state's rainy day fund.

Senator Norris said, "Is it rainy enough?  That's a fair question. I'm not taking a position on that right now."

There is more than $450 million in the state's rainy day fund.

Governor Haslam's amended budget reduces next year's investment in that fund by about $5 million, but his budget still adds $35 million to that savings account next year.