Bill Haslam indicated earlier this week that he’d really like to spend more time with journalists discussing the state’s finances than explaining his views on guns and the Second Amendment.
“We need to talk about jobs, we need to talk about fixing the budget,” the Knoxville mayor and GOP candidate for governor said during a campaign stop outside an early-voting center in Mt. Juliet.
But he offered few specifics Thursday when asked by reporters what departments or programs he’d propose trimming should he assume the state’s highest elected office and with it an expected $1.5 billion budget shortfall.
Details won’t come until he becomes governor, said Halsam.
“There’s a world of difference between being on the campaign trail and being in office,” he said. As a candidate, it’s easy to point out questionable spending, he continued, “but you need to get in there in the middle of it” to decide what programs are worth keeping and what needs cutting or scaling back.
To get a head start, Haslam said he’s looking forward to taking a crash course in state finances by tuning in to Gov. Phil Bredesen’s annual budget hearings. But that class isn’t being offered this fall.
The termed-out governor does not plan on holding them this year, preferring instead to let the election winner do his own probing for waste and spending excesses. The administration has asked state agencies for budget proposals that slice 1 percent and 3 percent off their fiscal outlays in an effort to give the next chief executive thought-out, workable options.
Haslam, whom polls have consistently shown with a commanding lead over Democratic candidate Mike McWherter, has taken heat throughout the campaign for speaking vaguely about his budget plans. After presenting the Nashville Rotary Club with a list of his priorities and a strategy for using them as a “dashboard” to measure the state’s progress, reporters hammered him for dodging questions about specifics.
On the campaign trail, Haslam has pledged to bring more jobs to Tennessee. He has said he would run government like a business and start with a top-to-bottom look at spending if elected. The Knoxville mayor has indicated he’s unlikely to favor expanding programs, at least for the time being — and that he’ll consider getting rid of unnecessary assets the state owns to reduce the cost of maintaining property. However, he declined to offer details on what he would target. He also said he would look to change the state’s purchasing practices to save money.
Haslam has weathered several days of media focus on comments he made to gun-rights proponents indicating he’s agreeable to nixing existing requirements that Tennesseans obtain a permit to carry firearms in public. The Republican nominee complained this week to the The Associated Press that campaign reporters lately have been ignoring whether gubernatorial candidates have “done their homework on the budget.”
McWherter has blasted Haslam on the firearms issue. But he, too, has largely neglected to offer specific fixes to the state budget. McWherter has suggested he’ll follow Bredesen’s lead and take cues from ranking members of the Legislature when the time comes to offer a spending plan.