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TDEC: Budget Reductions May Drain Other Revenues

Gov. Bill Haslam says he hopes not to have to cut a full 5 percent from each agency’s state budget, but officials at the Department of Environment and Conservation warn that reductions to their spending plan would leave “federal money on the table.”

State environmental regulators say they’re willing to chop $4.4 million worth of green from their budget next year but warned the governor that some of those cuts come with strings attached.

More than half the department’s $349 million budget comes from the federal government, often in the form of federal matching funds that would shrink or disappear if state spending were cut, according to Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau.

“We don’t want to leave that federal money on the table,” Martineau told Gov. Bill Haslam at a Capitol Hill budget hearing Nov. 15.

The department is requesting a $166 million state budget, although $85.8 million comes from dedicated state funding such as fees and revenues. TDEC oversees 53 state parks, which welcome 30 million visitors annually, but is also a major enforcer and administrator for state and federal government regulations like those that address clean air and water.

Cuts that would reduce the department’s budget by 5 percent, as requested by Haslam, include reducing funding to maintain and fix parks and equipment, and leasing out or closing parks with outdated facilities and limited visitors. But moves to close those state parks would result in more than $1 million in lost revenue, and eliminating 23 jobs in the Bureau of Environment would mean losing more than a half-million dollars in federal funds and fees, Martineau said.

Haslam is expected to cut as much as $400 million from this year’s estimated $30 billion budget to make up for increased costs in state government that are outpacing growth in state revenues.

“As we’ve told other folks, it’s our firm hope obviously we don’t have to ask everybody to do the full 5 percent,” Haslam told Martineau at the hearing.

Separately from the cuts, TDEC is asking Haslam for a $6.8 million permanent increase in dedicated funds instead of one-time money to help local governments and the state acquire park space and another $1.4 million next year to leverage federal money for a clean water program.

The department isn’t without its critics. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has called the agency “out of control” and launched a website in his push to roll back regulations he believes trip up businesses, including those at TDEC.

Haslam made a point over the summer to suggest that state agencies re-evaluate some of their regulations in a way that takes pressure off businesses, but none of those issues arose in TDEC’s budget hearing.

The department has managed to speed up some of its permitting processes, Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes said, and suggested other agencies mirror those efforts.

“Without spending hardly any money you’re becoming more effective and efficient, and we need to follow your example, all of us,” he told Martineau at the hearing.

3 replies on “TDEC: Budget Reductions May Drain Other Revenues”

“We don’t want to leave that federal money on the table,” Martineau told Gov. Bill Haslam
Oh, but we do. I don’t know if I am reading this correctly, but it sounds like Martineau wants to spend millions more in taxpayer dollars to prevent 1 million in possible lost revenue. Sounds like an out-of-control bureaucrat demanding more money based on baseline budgeting practices. And for what, a state equivalent of the EPA that hinders business and energy production here in TN? Shut em down completely. We can save 166 million right there.

“And for what, a state equivalent of the EPA…” Some states have primacy, if you did your research, which means EPA has approved the state’s plan to implement federal regulations. If the state does not have primacy, then EPA will have control of environmental regulation in those respective states. You cannot just “shut em down completely” in which you suggested without considering the fallout of that action. If you want to “shut em down” then you would have to abolish the EPA as some nearsighted folks in Washington would like to do. But if that happens, would you really like to go back to the day where you can’t swim, eat or breathe the air without wondering if you were going to be poisoned? Why do you think some of these regulations were promulgated in the first place? Essentially, we would become like some other countries such as China or Mexico… For the olympic games, China shut down all manufacturing so that people attending the games could breathe the air… do you really want that???? Have you ever wondered why you see some photos of people in China wearing masks? Sorry hun, it’s not because of the bird flu… You can have responsible environmental regulation without “shutting us down completely” while promoting economic growth in the great state of Tennessee. The companies that have left this state, declined to locate here or failed to grow due to environmental regulation. And yes, I am an employee of TDEC…

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