Budget proposals are bouncing around the Legislature this week from lawmakers in both chambers and parties. However, only one thing seems certain going forward at this point: Senate Republicans hold most of the cards.
With a 19-14 majority, the Senate GOP — should it stand unified — has the power to push or block any budget ideas it wants.
“I’m ready to vote right now but there’s not enough to get a majority out of either body,” said Sen. Tim Burchett, the Knoxville Republican who chairs the key Senate Budget Subcommittee.
Republican dominance — or intransigence, as their partisan opponents might call it — was on display in Burchett’s subcommittee Tuesday, when a new 52-point proposal offered up by Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, who is Gov. Phil Bredesen’s pitchman in the Legislature on budget matters, sank without a bubble.
Kyle, a Memphis Democrat was working off a proposal supported by Republican House Speaker Kent Williams — who is, like Kyle, plugged in with the governor. Kyle was confident a House majority could be constructed to support the latest administration offering. But that didn’t mean much to the Senate GOP, who has said they are interested in more spending cuts and no new taxes.
Majority Leader Mark Norris summed up the latest Kyle-Bredesen-Williams bill’s chances of Senate success in succinct terms: “D.O.A.”
“We don’t know what (Kyle) is trying to cobble together. We think he’s just trying to derail our negotiations with the House, which are making progress,” said Norris.
Senate Republican Finance, Ways and Means Chair Randy McNally called the starting-and-stopping on budget talks par for the course.
“It’s easy to say that it’s the Senate or the House or it’s the Republicans or the Democrats or vice versa. It just takes a while to put the process together,” said McNally, from Oak Ridge.
But likely more than in other years, the back-and-forth is probably more about politics and personalities than numbers and budgets, Burchett said.
“If one side was for was for X, the other side would be for X plus one. It’s always that way and it’s just always a battle of leadership,” said Burchett, a senator who is running for Knoxville mayor. “It boils down to egos. It’s never going to change.”