House Speaker Kent Williams told members of the Shelby County legislative delegation he was “100 percent against” the Senate GOP’s budget proposal Wednesday.
He said the plan would cut programs and departments too deep then build up a pool of money to sit unspent in the state’s rainy day fund.
“I will never, never be comfortable cutting even more than we’re cutting now and keeping $500 million in the bank. I just can’t live with that,” he said.
Williams said the cuts in the Senate are driven by politics, including the race for governor.
“I think in the Senate, it’s more politics,” he said. “I guarantee if we didn’t have members running for governor and Congress, we would have already passed this budget. It’s a political statement and you just don’t play political games at the stake of our citizens.”
Senate Republicans, led by GOP gubernatorial candidate and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, pitched an alternative to Gov. Phil Bredesen’s budget plan Tuesday.
Williams said he was leaning closer to the Democratic governor’s proposal which included using some $340 million in pending federal dollars to help level out the budget, along with several tax increases.
“I just can’t see cutting money from our mental health, and our childrens’ services, from our farmers, from our state employees, our teachers,” he told the delegation. “How can we do that and go home with $500 million in the bank. I just don’t get it.”
He urged the mostly Democratic delegation to toe the line and not give into political pressure to go along with the Senate’s latest budget plan.
Tennessee House Republicans, who so far have taken a backseat to the governor and Senate GOP in the budget gamesmanship, say they’ll pitch their own state-spending proposals come Monday.
But Republican leaders in the House say they only want to tinker with the Senate version — not veer away from it completely.
“I think what the Senate rolled out is a good template. It’s rock solid. And it does those things that we want,” said House Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada, of Franklin. “It cuts the size of government and no tax increase. One or two things we want to tweak, and then we’ll have a really good plan.”
“I think you’re going to see a House thumbprint on that plan, if you will. And you’re going to see something that cuts spending, there will be less expenditures this year than last year and you’re going to see something that has no taxes,” Casada told TNReport Wednesday morning.
House Speaker Williams has been a “Carter County Republican” since he became persona non-grata in the Tennesse GOP after maneuvering to lead the chamber last year.
Casada said the caucus’ ideas will likely be revealed as an amendment to the budget bill on the House floor. He said the party will be building onto the Senate budget plan — not writing a new one from scratch.
State Capitol lawmakers are presumably nearing the home stretch of the spring legislative session. Within the next few weeks, they plan on ironing out a state spending and revenue plan for the budget year that kicks off July 1.
Williams said he suspects the Senate is hoping to vote soon on a budget plan because it is running out of legislative days. With only three days left, lawmakers will be refused any per diem money for food and lodging for any extra days in session.
Several budget ideas are already floating around Capitol Hill. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen is offering up several tax increases to avoid program cuts, suggesting the state close a loop hole that would increase cable costs for some customers, raise the cost of drivers licenses but stretch out how often the licenses need to be renewed, and lift a sales tax cap on single-item purchases over $3,200.
In turn, he offered a 3 percent pay bonus to state employees and teachers, saying those employees have been on a three-years-and-running pay freeze.
Senate Republicans scratched all of those ideas Tuesday, including the state employee bonus.
A House Republican spokesperson said the GOP members will be meeting later in the day to discuss the various budget proposals already on the table. She said all Republicans, including the House Speaker, will be invited to the table.