How large will the Tennessee state budget be next year? That remains an open question.
A parade of experts with sometimes conflicting views appeared before the Tennessee Funding Board Friday to provide information to the board officials who will estimate how much money the state will bring in from taxes to spend next year on programs ranging from prisons to road building to health and social services.
But an answer may come as early as this week.
“It is extraordinarily difficult because we’ve heard a variety of estimates and a variety of views and they differ,” state Comptroller Justin Wilson told TNReport. “There are a lot of unknowns.”
It’s easy to see why.
Lee Jones, the regional executive of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, predicted a “bumpy, apprehensive recovery for the nation,” in a presentation he made before the Funding Board.
“Simply said,” Jones said, “the economy is stuck in a slow growth-mode.”
On the other hand, Albert DePrince Jr., an economics professor from Middle Tennessee State University showed an array of data pointing to an improving economy.
Reports he supplied showed that in Tennessee, unemployment claims are down, car and truck sales are increasing, new housing is being built and personal income growth increasing.
Finance & Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes has said this will be a “moderate growth year.” Also, Black Friday sales tax receipts haven’t yet been calculated, said Gov. Haslam’s chief financial officer.
“It’s important to remember we won’t see how after-Thanksgiving retail sales performed until this time next month, when we’ve seen collected revenues from November spending,” Emkes said in a statement.
Wilson said they will “give a range to the governor and the General Assembly of what we believe will be appropriate and responsible to budget; not too high, not too low.”
“It’s important to realize that this is a revenue estimating process,” Wilson said. “It’s important that we hit the right numbers.”
The Funding Board is one of the most powerful committees in Tennessee in signaling available revenues the governor and the legislature plan on spending.
Traditionally, Tennessee governors push for the highest possible estimate so they can create a robust budget with lots of projects — and goodies for political payoffs. The legislature, though, traditionally pushes for a lower estimate, knowing that if the revenue doesn’t come in as estimated, they will face the politically difficult decision to cut programs or raise taxes.
There was no discussion Friday about returning any money to the Tennessee taxpayer.
Trent Seibert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter (@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.