Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s newest campaign ad promises he’ll cut the size of state government next year if he’s elected governor this November. But the sitting governor said there’s nothing stopping the candidate from proposing those changes now.
Ramsey, the state’s lieutenant governor, defended his campaign promise Wednesday, saying he’d rather save that restructuring until federal stimulus money starts drying up.
“There’s no doubt there’ll be several hundred million dollars that we’re going to be short next year, even without this year’s budget,” Ramsey told TNReport. “So, that’s the reason the next governor is going to have to look at reshaping state government.”
Lawmakers this year will find a way to patch up the budget using a combination of existing revenue, cuts and one-time money, said Ramsey. And elected state leaders are going to have to “reshape” government when stimulus funds run out down the road, he said.
In his ad, which began airing Tuesday night, the Republican gubernatorial hopeful vowed to shrink the number of state government departments by one third if elected.
But with Republicans holding majorities in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly, Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday the Senate speaker is clearly in an authoritative position to formally propose new thinking to help close a $105 million budget gap.
“Do it this year if you want,” said Bredesen, a Democrat with less than nine months left in his last term as governor. “You know, just tell me what (the departments to cut) are and tell me what the effects would be.”
Why wait, Bredesen wondered.
“Because I’m not governor,” the lieutenant governor later retorted.
“Look, we’ve never been in this position before,” Ramsey continued. “We’ve never been in a position when we’re ready to fall off a cliff. We balance the budget using existing revenues, we plug things up with one-time moneys, but we’re going to be at a cliff next year because we’ve never been in this position before.”
Ramsey said he is saving his proposal for next year when one-time stimulus dollars run out and the state has an even larger budget hole to fill.
“Next year the next governor is going to have to make those hard choices. And I’ve never been governor before,” he said. “It’s going to take the governor to take that leadership role to combine departments and in the end save the state, in my opinion, millions of dollars.”
In the TV ad, the second of Ramsey’s campaign, the lieutenant governor coined himself as “the conservative candidate” and vowed to reduce the size of state government.
“Instead of 22 departments of state government, I believe we can cut it by a third,” he said in the ad.
For starters, he would roll several state agencies that deal with finances under one department, said his campaign spokeswoman, Rachel Taylor.
He plans on combining the Department of Revenue, which is the state’s chief tax collector, and the bank-and-loan-regulating Department of Financial Institutions with the Department of Finance and Administration, which drafts the state budget each year.
He would also roll the existing Department of Children Services into the Department of Human Services as well as fold the Department of Mental Health into the Department of Health, she said.
Ramsey is expected to reveal other departments he would merge and how else he would shrink state government in coming days and weeks of his campaign, said Taylor.
On Wednesday, Ramsey said he was not yet sure exactly how much money those agency mergers might save state government.
Andrea Zelinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.