Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam won’t say exactly what he’d cut from the state budget if elected governor but sought to assure a group of Middle Tennessee mayors he’d find lots of places to reduce spending.
The Republican candidate said he’d do a top-to-bottom examination of the budget, evaluate the number and use of state employees, evaluate whether the government needs all its assets, look at the state’s health insurance program and study the way the state makes purchases.
“It’s a thousand little cuts,” he said.
Haslam, the perceived front-runner to replace termed-out Gov. Phil Bredesen, has so far refused to say specifically what programs he would reduce in state government.
“We’ll do the same thing that you’ve been doing. It’s just on a bigger scale,” he said.
His Democratic opponent, Mike McWherter, is also short on details but told the same group he would largely follow Bredesen’s lineup of budget cuts slated for next year.
“If you stay pretty close to that plan, then we’re in pretty good financial shape, comparatively speaking, to other states,” McWherter said.
Next year’s $30 billion budget includes $189 million in cuts to programs funded with federal dollars and one-time stimulus money that will run out next year.
In addition to those reductions, Bredesen’s administration is asking state agency directors to help shave at least another $45 million from the state budget.
The next governor is free to reverse those cuts or issues deeper ones. However, he’ll also need the legislature’s support before the reductions can stick.
“Now, I am not going to stand up here today and tell you that I’m absolutely going to follow every recommendation in that budget,” McWherter said. “There always have to be tweaks and changes depending on unanticipated events.”
As the two candidates talked budget reductions, the group of 40 city and county mayors from 10 Middle Tennessee counties quizzed candidates on their dedication to supporting a regional mass transit system.
Both candidates said they thought the issue was important, but neither said mass transit systems such as light-rail would be immediately feasible under their administration.