Press Releases

New TN Ag Commissioner Named

Press Release from Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, Aug. 13, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today announced Terry J. Oliver as the next commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. Oliver, who currently serves as deputy commissioner, will assume his new role on August 16, 2010.

“I have personally known Terry and have sought his advice and counsel through the years on agricultural issues,” said Bredesen. “Always dependable and a man of his word, Terry made a great team with former Commissioner Ken Givens in leading our efforts to address the needs and opportunities of farmers and rural communities. He is the right person to assume leadership of the Department of Agriculture at this time, and I’m very pleased to announce his appointment.”

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture provides a variety of consumer protection services, promotes farm products and encourages the sustainable management of forest and farmland resources. Farming and forestry not only preserve a time-honored way of life, but they also fuel the state’s economy. Agricultural production generates more than $3.1 billion annually in farm cash receipts and another $329 million generated by timber sales.

“I very much appreciate the opportunity to serve Governor Bredesen and the state of Tennessee as commissioner,” Oliver said. “The Department of Agriculture touches the lives of Tennesseans every day through the food we eat, the fuel we pump, the clothes we wear, the wood products we use and the land we enjoy. It will be an honor for me to serve Tennesseans in this new role.”

A West Tennessee farmer and businessman, Oliver has nearly 20 years of public service and experience in state government and has served four commissioners of Agriculture as deputy commissioner. He returned to state government in February 2003 having served previously in the same capacity from 1987 to 1995.

Oliver has led efforts to improve the effectiveness of the Division of Forestry and also played a significant role in the development and implementation of the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, a cost share program established by Bredesen to spur farm innovation and agricultural development in Tennessee.

A native of Gleason, Tenn., Oliver holds a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is a member of the advisory council for the Governor’s School of Agriculture Sciences at UT Martin – one of only three enrichment programs in the nation for high school agriculture students. He is also a former member of the USDA Farm Services Agency state committee.

Oliver, a sixth generation farmer, and his wife Marsha reside on their family farm in Gleason and have two daughters and three grandchildren.

Press Releases

Bredesen Taps Nicely for Deputy Governor

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Aug 09, 2010:

Commissioner of Transportation to Assume Role Following Morgan’s Departure

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today appointed Gerald Nicely, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, to serve as Deputy to the Governor effective October 1. Nicely will replace John Morgan, who on Friday was named the next Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

“Jerry is a strong leader who knows the operation of state government and knows how to manage large organizations and complex issues,” Bredesen said. “He has served in a number of executive roles during my time in public office and he’s the right person to help me during the remainder of my time as Governor.”

Nicely has served as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation since 2003 and concurrently served as Interim Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety from December 2005 until January 2007. Nicely also served in a number of positions in local government, including Chief of Staff, when Bredesen was mayor of Nashville.

“I appreciate Governor Bredesen’s continued confidence in me and will be honored to serve in this role,” Nicely said. “I’m committed to helping the Governor implement the education reforms that are currently underway as well as keeping our momentum in creating jobs and recruiting businesses to Tennessee.”

Nicely joined state government and TDOT with more than 30 years of local government experience and a track record of successfully forging public-private partnerships that helped transform Nashville. He served as Executive Director of Nashville’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency from 1979-2002.

Nicely has received numerous awards for public service including: Tennessee Association of Public Administration’s Public Administrator of the Year in 2006, the Nashville Kiwanis Club’s co-Nashvillian of the year in 2001 – for which he was the co-recipient with his wife Donna, the Apollo award from the Nashville Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in 2006, and the Nashville Engineering Center’s Distinguished Builder Award.

News Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Goes It Alone At Putnam County Forum

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey got up from his chair on the stage Tuesday night in Cookeville and ambled over to pick up two more.

He took them over and sat them down, one on each side of his.

One chair represented Bill Haslam. One represented Zach Wamp. And Ramsey addressed the empty chairs periodically throughout the evening.

Putnam County Republicans held a forum for all three of the three front-running gubernatorial candidates Tuesday, but it didn’t work out that way. With Wamp and Haslam no-shows, Ramsey had the stage — and the audience of about 100 people — all to himself.

He didn’t appear to mind.

There were no time limits, and seemingly no limits to the questions the partisan audience had for the candidate.

But Ramsey slogged it out for about 90 minutes onstage, occasionally pausing to offer the empty chairs a chance to join the discussion. “Right, Zach?” he would ask. Or, “We’ll let Haslam answer this one.”

But neither the congressman nor the mayor laid a glove on the lieutenant governor that night.

And Ramsey probably won a lot of votes in the hall just by showing up. Organizers seemed frustrated by the circumstance, but there was a refreshing twist to a candidate being able to answer a question in full without a bell ringing shortly after he began to speak.

After Ramsey gave his basic stump speech, Ramsey plunged right into the Q&A — the first question was about Sharia law and Islam, which has become a hot topic in the state most notably with the controversy over a proposed mosque in Rutherford County.

Ramsey declared that he welcomes any other faith in this country, but that an attempt to bring other “law” here simply can’t be allowed.

“Here’s the deal. If someone wants to come to this country and be a freedom-loving person who wants to live within our laws that’s fine. There are Muslims who do that, who want to live in our society. They become one of us. They follow our Constitution. They follow our law. They’re freedom-loving. That’s great. That’s what this country is all about,” Ramsey said.

“But, and this is indisputable, there is a radical faction that has taken over a portion of this that the freedom-loving Muslims need to push back on just a tad. When you’re promoting violence I don’t think that can possibly be any kind of religion. As far as Sharia law, when you come over here, you agree you’re moving to the United States, therefore, you’re going to live under our Constitution,” to which someone in the audience yelled “amen.”

It goes back to the way the nation was founded, Ramsey asserted.

“You’re going to live under our laws that were founded under Judeo-Christian principles. That’s what you do when you come here,” he said. “Don’t come over here bringing your laws and want to change us into that. This is what made us the greatest country in the world.

“I appreciate the First Amendment that gives the freedom of religion. I also appreciate the Second Amendment, the Tenth Amendment. Anybody who comes here ought to also appreciate the Constitution and the laws and live under those laws here in the United States.”

Ramsey laid out his plans for K-12 education as well as higher education, emphasizing how good the state’s community colleges and technology centers are for educating a workforce. He said he favors keeping the sales tax on food because it is part of a tax structure he likes and prevents moving toward an income tax.

Ramsey discussed his ideas for utilizing local health departments to help manage health care needs in the state. He said he is ready to be a “super-salesman” for Tennessee attracting business as governor and said, although he wrestles with the issue, he is leaning toward favoring closed primary elections where people cannot cross over and vote in a party other than their own. The state currently has an open primary process.

“You don’t want people who really aren’t in your party to choose your nominee,” he said. “That’s just wrong.”

He said he frequently hears Tennesseans say they are registered as a Republicans or Democrats but that the reality is they’re not.

Ramsey expressed a fair amount of frustration that his campaign has siphoned up a healthy $3.5 million in contributions, and still he’s been financially overshadowed by Haslam, whose campaign has raised over $8 million. Ramsey said he is not in favor of term limits, saying people have the right to vote people out of office. And he said he is the only candidate in the race with experience in state government.

Press Releases

TBI Director Gwyn Gets New Term

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, July 1, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today reappointed Mark Gwyn as the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Bredesen appointed Gwyn to his first six-year term as the agency’s director in 2004.

“Mark has done an outstanding job leading the TBI during the past six years,” Bredesen said. “He led the effort to achieve national accreditation and has the support of law enforcement officials across the state. He is committed to improving the operation and performance of the Bureau and is dedicated to fighting crime in Tennessee. These skills, and the high level of integrity he brings to this position, make him the right person to lead the agency for another term.”

Gwyn was selected from a field of three finalist candidates submitted by the TBI Director Nominating Commission, a five-member panel consisting of representatives from the judicial and legal communities.

“I’m honored to be reappointed to this position and appreciate Governor Bredesen’s confidence in my ability to continue the mission and the work of the TBI,” Gwyn said. “I’ll continue to work with the men and women of law enforcement across this state and with our federal partners to coordinate our efforts and improve our methods of fighting crime in Tennessee.”

As director, Gwyn oversees 420 TBI employees in the agency’s five major divisions: Criminal Investigation, Drug Investigation, Forensic Services, Information Systems and Administrative Services. The Bureau is headquartered in Nashville and operates seven regional and satellite offices across the state.

Since becoming director, Gwyn has overseen the creation of the Technical Services Unit, placing an emphasis on high tech surveillance methods, computer forensics and battling internet crimes targeting children with the launch of a Cyber Crimes Unit. Under his watch, the state’s Fusion Center was constructed within TBI headquarters housing Homeland Security among other programs such as AMBER Alert and Tennessee’s Sex Offender Registry.

Gwyn has committed the Drug Investigation Division to targeting mid- to high-level drug dealers. He has been an active member of the Governor’s Meth Task Force, which crafted legislation designed to stop methamphetamine production across the state. Currently, Gwyn is instrumental in halting the distribution, sale and abuse of prescription drugs.

Prior to his appointment in 2004, Gwyn served as assistant director in charge of the TBI Forensic Services Division where he oversaw the Bureau’s three nationally accredited crime laboratories and 100 forensic scientists and technicians in Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville. Prior to that, Gwyn served as executive officer from 1996 to 2001 where he handled special assignments. From 1988 to 1996, Gwyn served as a special agent and criminal investigator helping coordinate investigations into violent crime, drugs, public corruption and gambling cases. Before joining the TBI, Gwyn served as a patrolman for the McMinnville Police Department.

Gwyn has completed some of the most prestigious law enforcement and leadership training programs in the industry, including the John F. Kennedy School of Government from Harvard University and the FBI Leadership in Counterterrorism Program. He also received extensive terrorism training conducted in Israel by the Israeli National Police while attending the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange. Gwyn sits on the IACP Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Committee as well as the University of Tennessee National Forensic Academy Board. Locally, he is a graduate of Leadership Nashville and serves on the Board of Directors for the Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank.

Gwyn, 47, is a McMinnville, Tenn., native who holds a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University.

Liberty and Justice News Transparency and Elections

Bredesen Says Immigration Bill Not Unreasonable

Gov. Phil Bredesen said he thought “long and hard” about whether to endorse a controversial piece of immigration legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this past session. But ultimately he made a “judgment call” and signed the bill.

Bredesen repeatedly used the phrase “throwing gasoline on the fire” during a press conference Tuesday to describe the political hot potato immigration issues have become.

However, the governor said he believes this bill, HB670, is not especially harmful in his view.

The bill requires local law enforcement officials to take steps to verify the citizenship status of individuals who are detained and report to federal authorities when they find someone who may be in the country illegally.

Specifically, the bill calls for the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to establish a standard written procedure for verifying citizenship and report those who may be in violation of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act. The legislature approved the bill after a conference committee produced a measure following lengthy debate.

Bredesen said the decision for him came down to two matters. He said the process of proving citizenship is not unreasonable and that the bill only reinforces the principle behind efforts already in place in major cities in the state that he has supported.

The bill had drawn objection from organizations as divergent as civil liberties groups who are concerned about racial profiling and local police who don’t want to be burdened by having to enforce federal law.

“Symbolically, I didn’t like it,” Bredesen said of the bill. “I didn’t think it was necessary. There’s nothing in that bill that sheriffs can’t do today if they want to do. I didn’t think it was unreasonable. I think it would just be throwing gasoline on the fire to veto it, and I did what I thought was best.”

The governor drew on his personal experience from when he lived for awhile in England. If he had been arrested for something there, he said it would have been reasonable for a police officer to ask to see his passport or visa. He said that while he is very sensitive about such issues, it is not an unreasonable set of requests to ask for the verification.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee had written to Bredesen in opposition to the bill, saying the legislation “effectively creates a police state by requiring individuals (ie., all Latino residents and others who look and sound foreign) to carry documentation at all times so that they can prove they are in this country legally in case they are arrested.”

The ACLU letter also said requiring local authorities to conduct the process “is a recipe for racial profiling.”

The issue has grown in Tennessee in recent years as immigration has soared, including illegal immigration.

Local law enforcement officers found themselves in position of releasing detainees who would re-offend and have members of the public ask why illegal immigrants who had been in custody were released. Efforts to establish new ties with federal authorities ensued to help identify illegal immigrants, but the matter has always been subject to resources to handle the job properly.

Bredesen said he was aware of the political ramifications of the issue in an election year.

“In the end, if it was something I thought was truly unreasonable, I would have vetoed it, but when I looked at it and said, look, it’s what the big four are already doing, it’s something every sheriff can do today if they want to, there’s nothing about that they can’t do today, why throw gasoline on the fire? I really believe this whole thing has got to be dampened.”

He added that he had said as much recently in a speech to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce regarding issues such as English-only.

“We’ve got to grow beyond this stuff that’s going to really hurt us,” Bredesen said. “It was a judgment call.”

Asked if he had considered allowing the bill to become law without his signature, which is an option for a governor, Bredesen said he has “done that once in a while.”

“I always feel badly about doing that,” Bredesen said, adding that when the issue is a resolution instead of a bill, his signature doesn’t much matter.

“This is one I thought I should step up to,” said the governor. “I think you will find on almost all the bills, I have stepped up to either sign or veto, just because that’s pretty much my job.”

Press Releases

Democrats: GOP Running Scared With Bredesen’s McWherter Endorsement

Statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party, June 23, 2010

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said the Republican Party’s three gubernatorial candidates are flawed and they realize that Gov. Phil Bredesen’s recent endorsement of Mike McWherter spells big trouble for them in the fall.

“Gov. Bredesen has an overall approval rating of 75 percent across the state,” Forrester said. “He has done an outstanding job for the state and voters realize that.

“His ringing endorsement of Mike McWherter means something to most Tennesseans. That is why Republicans are frantically trying to dismiss the endorsement. Gov. Bredesen knows more about leading a state than Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney ever will.

“Ron Ramsey’s boot, Zach Wamp’s federal earmarks for his buddies and Bill Haslam’s Big Oil ties are bad news for Republicans in the fall. Regardless of who comes out of that primary, Mike McWherter’s success as a small-business owner and his experience at creating jobs will resonate with voters in November,” he added.

News Transparency and Elections

McWherter Event Set for Bredesen’s Home

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter seemed to tip his hand unknowingly Thursday by revealing an event is planned for him at the home of Gov. Phil Bredesen and first lady Andrea Conte.

After McWherter’s campaign sent a release Thursday about a “special announcement” from Bredesen and McWherter on June 23 at Swett’s Restaurant in Nashville, McWherter was asked to comment on his plans with the governor.

Bredesen said last week he planned to raise funds for McWherter as well as make a formal endorsement at some point. There was no mention of any fund-raiser in the announcement Thursday from the McWherter campaign.

When asked about the upcoming event, McWherter said, “I hope it will be extremely successful, and I’m very appreciative that the governor and his wife would open their personal home to have an event for me there.

“I’ve never known Governor Bredesen and his wife to open their home for a political campaign, but obviously they’re doing it in my case, and I’m very appreciative of their support and help.”

When informed that there had been no public announcement about an event at the governor’s home, and that that sounded like news, McWherter said, “The event at Swett’s is news to me. I didn’t realize I was having one there.”

While there are times when political fund-raisers are advertised for full effect, fund-raising activity is normally not talked about in public ways. Campaigns rely heavily on fund-raising events but don’t generally put a public face on raising money in a private setting.

“Invitations are out. It’s not a secret,” McWherter said.

Bredesen last week said he liked the Democratic candidate and that he had respect for McWherter’s father, former Gov. Ned McWherter, who Bredesen said had been helpful to him over the years.

Bredesen is scheduled to return home Saturday from a foreign trade trip to Germany and Spain.

The announcement from the McWherter campaign about Wednesday’s event at Swett’s said it will begin at 10:15 a.m. The restaurant is at 2725 Clifton Ave.

McWherter, meanwhile, drew attention Thursday from the Tennessee Republican Party, which issued a release saying the more McWherter speaks the more he “demonstrates how out of touch he is with voters in the Volunteer State.”

The release from the party cited quotations by McWherter, including Internet links to their sources. The party labeled McWherter in the release as “pro-abortion,” “hands-off on immigration,” “won’t fight Obamacare” and “advocated a budget containing job-killing small business tax hikes.”

When asked Thursday after a forum for the Tennessee Education Association in Franklin if he wanted to respond to the GOP release, McWherter said, “I haven’t read all those comments and I probably should not comment until I have a chance to read those.”

McWherter has wrapped up the Democratic nomination to be governor by being the only Democrat remaining in the race. The primary is Aug. 5. The general election is Nov. 2.

Education News Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Would Reject RTTT Funds If ‘Strings Attached’

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said Saturday that as governor he’d reject federal Race to the Top funds for state education if the money comes with requirements from Washington, D.C.that it be spent in specific ways.

“I hope and pray this Race to the Top money doesn’t have strings attached to it. If it does, and I’m governor, we’re not going to take it,” Ramsey said.

He said the funds should be used in non-recurring ways, such as putting it toward teacher and principal training.

Ramsey, who is seeking the Republican nomination to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, was speaking at a meeting in Franklin of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, an organization that offers teachers an alternative to joining a teachers union. The lieutenant governor said he is feeling much relieved now that the legislative session is over and he can concentrate on primary election campaigning

Other speakers at the meeting included Republican candidate Zach Wamp, Democrat hopeful Mike McWherter and independent candidates Bayron Binkley, Samuel Duck and Brandon Dodds.

Bredesen led the charge for the Race to the Top funds, and the federal government surprised Tennessee by granting the state $500 million, an amount the state wanted and applied for but did not expect to receive in full. The state had expected a much lower figure if it won. Only one other state, Delaware, won Race to the Top funds in the first of two rounds in the contest and was awarded roughly $100 million.

Ramsey told the group the Race to the Top funds were greatly due to the intense amount of work the Legislature put in during its special session on education in January.

Ramsey spoke highly of the effort in the special session and explained that he knew the subject of teacher evaluations was controversial but supported changes in the evaluation process. The reform effort was intended to help put together a strong application for the federal funds.

Ramsey said the special session was an example of “the way government ought to work.”

“This is not about some mass firing of teachers, but it is a tool we can use to help teachers,” Ramsey said. “In the end, this will work out. It will be fine.”

Ramsey was in full campaign mode and he became passionate when the issue of federal intervention rose.

“At first I thought this administration we have now was just incompetent. But now I think it’s conniving,” Ramsey said. “You don’t borrow $1.4 trillion one year, $1.6 trillion the next year and expect our country to stay the same. It’s not going to happen.

“I hope to have grandkids soon. There’s no way our kids can have the same world to grow up in that I did if we keep heading in this direction. It’s impossible.”

He said governors need to push back against the federal government.

“This is revolutionary,” Ramsey said. “I don’t mean like march on Washington, D.C., revolutionary. I mean revolutionary in the sense that I don’t think states have ever pushed back. We’ve never been in this position before.”

Wamp said a group like the Professional Educators of Tennessee deserves to have a voice in decision-making on education. He used the opportunity to state his case about the importance of early childhood reading and emphasized the importance of health issues among children.

“The truth is you are getting a product that requires you to be in law enforcement and psychology and everything across the spectrum instead of the ability to just educate the children based on you getting a decent product,” Wamp told the group.

McWherter tied education to the mission of creating more jobs in the state. He said he recognizes the importance of providing the resources necessary to teach children. He also lauded the Bredesen administration for landing the Race to the Top grant monies.

The primary is Aug. 5. The general election is Nov. 2.

Business and Economy Health Care News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Stable for Now, TennCare Demands Future Attention

Gov. Phil Bredesen has no illusions about the longterm manageability of TennCare, saying this week, “I think the stuff we did with TennCare bought the state a decade but not more than that.”

The governor’s take on the state’s version of the Medicaid program may come as a surprise to those who assumed TennCare’s major problems were over as a result of major reductions Bredesen made in the program that slowed what had become a runaway train.

But Bredesen, now nearing the end of his term, said the fundamental issues involving health coverage remain.

Apart from the cost pressures already involved in health care, another enormous storm is headed the state’s way with the expansion of Medicaid in the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law that has become known, for better or worse, as ObamaCare.

Bredesen famously referred to the expansion of Medicaid as “the mother of all unfunded mandates” on states when the bill was being debated in Congress. Now that the bill has become law, Bredesen has taken a different tack, basically saying it’s the law and must be followed, somehow.

Yet through all the concern about what the future holds on the state health care program, for the moment a consensus appears to have formed that the current leadership at TennCare has adroitly managed the operation. Bredesen says so, and so do some people currently running for Bredesen’s job.

“I think one of the issues the new governor is going to have to deal with is basically how do you deal with Medicaid,” Bredesen said. “You know my feelings about using Medicaid as part of President Obama’s expansion. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I think it will put a huge amount of pressure on states in the future.

“But that’s something the governor’s got to do. It’s done. It’s the law. It’s over. It’s something the future governor is going to have to deal with.”

The new law calls for establishing health insurance “exchanges,” which will serve as a government-regulated marketplace for buying health insurance. While some aspects of the law have a more immediate impact — such as helping fill the “doughnut hole” in coverage of the Medicare prescription drug plan or extending coverage of children under their parents’ plans until age 26 (due to go into effect in September) — the bulk of the law is scheduled to kick in in 2014.

The time delay has given some who dislike the law an expectation that the law can be changed, so its full impact won’t be known for awhile. But as it stands, the burden will be falling on states to figure out how to follow through on the new law.

“This is not something the federal government can execute. They’re going to need the states to set up the exchanges,” Bredesen said. “Obviously a lot of new people will be coming into Medicaid, and that produces a whole bunch of issues, from rates we’re paying to physicians to other things. So I think there is a whole set of things to be dealt with in terms of implementing the act.”

Bredesen feels good about TennCare’s current leadership, which includes director Darin Gordon.

“We have some good expertise in the state right now, particularly in the form of Darin and his staff over there,” Bredesen said. “I think we’ll get through it but that’s going to take a lot of work.”

One of the candidates for governor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Republican from Chattanooga, said this week he, too, is impressed with TennCare’s current leadership, and Wamp gives Bredesen credit for managing the state budget in broad terms, as well as specifically on TennCare.

“Darin Gordon has done an excellent job,” Wamp said. “In fact, the last 24 months at TennCare the program is trending better than it has at any time in its existence. When I had my full briefing with him and asked a slew of questions, I was highly impressed. I think they’re focusing now on more preventive care and wellness, which is something I’m really strong on.

“Frankly, short of the Obama mandate kicking in, I believe TennCare is going in a good direction, but if the Obama mandate kicks in without some relief, if we can’t change that, TennCare is going to get buried with federal mandates. We don’t have the money to pay for those mandates.”

The days of total upheaval at TennCare seem to have subsided, for now.

“We’ve got a good team at TennCare now. It’s been stable,” Bredesen said. “They know what they’re doing. They’re doing a good job. They’re making their budgets. In fact they’re helping us solve some of our other budgets. But that’s going to be a real issue.”

Bredesen was elected in 2002 in great part on his perceived management skills, just as TennCare was spiraling out of control. A key report by consultant McKinsey & Company showed TennCare putting the state on a path to financial ruin. Bredesen responded by cutting more than 170,000 people from the TennCare rolls in 2005. He also put limits on the amount of prescription medications that would be covered, a politically controversial move.

Now, the concern has become that with strides made over a number of years, Medicaid expansion in the new federal law threatens to wipe out previous gains.

Bredesen’s point, as he moves through his final year in office, is that while the state bought time with its changes, the problem of health care costs has not been solved. The new governor will find that waiting for him.

Business and Economy News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Candidates Give Guv Credit for Fiscal Stewardship, But Say Spending Curbs Still Needed

Republican gubernatorial candidates are giving Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen good marks for his management of the state budget in tough times.

But they are braced for extremely difficult decisions, and they expressed their approach to the next budget Tuesday at the Bluegrass Yacht and Country Club where the Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce held a forum.

Bredesen last week said the recently approved $28 billion budget plan will leave the next governor in a “good, solid position” and keeps the state “on strong financial footing.”

That’s in contrast to many of the statements that have come from the Republican side of the gubernatorial campaign, where candidates have expressed concerns about the end of stimulus money. Nevertheless, they’re ready to cut, they say.

The consensus is that Tennessee is in excellent shape when compared to other states.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp addressed the budget and other issues in the forum, and in what may be becoming the norm some sharp exchanges surfaced as the candidates distinguish their positions from each other. The primary election is Aug. 5, and early voting begins July 16.

Haslam told the audience there will be no tax increases, which is something all the candidates agree on, and that the expected economic growth will only be 1 or 2 percent this year, adding that the only alternative is to cut back on the expense side.

“Everybody says we want you to run government like a business, until you do it,” Haslam said. “We’re talking about shrinking the budget in a lot of places. I can tell you the first cuts are the easiest.”

But Wamp, although asked about immigration, didn’t let Haslam’s budget-cutting comments go unchallenged. Wamp pointed out that Haslam raised taxes before he cut the budget in Knoxville.

“I don’t want to let this go by, after what the mayor just said,” Wamp said. “He is my friend, and he is a nice guy, and I know his daughter (Leigh) is in the room, and I don’t want to be mean, but when he became mayor, before he cut a dime of spending, he raised taxes 15 percent.

“That’s not the tough work. If you brag about debt reduction without saying I raised taxes 15 percent, it’s not complete. It’s not honest, and that’s the fact about that. These are differences that need to come out as we go down the stretch, because frankly we don’t need anymore establishment moderates running our state.”

Haslam came back, saying, “I’m the only one that’s been responsible for preparing, passing and implementing a budget. If revenues don’t meet expenses that’s been my job.”

Haslam said his predecesssor — he didn’t name him, but it was Victor Ashe — had said the person who succeeded him had no choice but to have a tax increase.

“Now, we have the lowest property tax rate in over 50 years,” Haslam said. “Our budget is less than three years ago, and I am glad to stand by that record.”

The budget issue is clearly the biggest obstacle facing the next governor. All three candidates at the forum credited Bredesen for his management.

“Compared to other states, Governor Bredesen is leaving the next governor in pretty sound condition,” Wamp said before the forum. “I’m grateful for the work he has done on economic development, bringing in new investments in our state, and I’m grateful he has responsibly managed the budget over his eight years.

“And I do believe the state, compared to other states, is in a strong position going forward, even though we’ve got budget deficits (ahead). We actually have the ability to manage those budget deficits in our state without new taxes, which is rare in America today.”

Ramsey was squarely in the middle of the recent budget process and was critical of Bredesen when the governor introduced a list of potential new taxes to get the budget process home. But in the end, the Legislature pushed back enough to claim it balanced the budget with no tax increases, and Ramsey said he was proud of that.

“We left a blueprint on how the next governor can get back to a recurring-to-nonrecurring basis. In other words we’re not using one-time money to finance expenses,” Ramsey said. “I think the Senate was very protective. I’ll hand it to our chairman of finance, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge,) who was an ardent proponent of making sure that happened.

“Also the House wanted to dig deeper into reserves, to dig deeper in our rainy day fund, and the Senate held firm on that. So the next governor will at least have some cushion if the economy doesn’t turn around. We all hope the economy turns around and this takes care of itself, but we have left a blueprint.”

Ramsey added that the state is still not out of the woods.

“It’s still going to be hard. It’s still going to be tough,” Ramsey said. “But the next governor will at least have a way to get out of this.”

Haslam, no doubt thinking of those people who say they want cuts but then react when the cuts actually occur, is clearly concerned about the loss of stimulus funds from the federal government.

“I’ll give the Legislature and the administration credit for passing a good budget this year, but there is a lot of money in this year’s budget that is not available in next year’s,” Haslam said. “There are some rainy day funds I don’t think we will be able to draw from next year, some stimulus plan money. There will be a big challenge.

“Relative to some of our peer states, are we in good shape? Yeah, I think we are, and I think a lot of people deserve credit for that. I don’t think anybody should kid themselves. We saw how hard it was to figure out the last hundred-million-dollar gap of this year’s budget, and there’s a billion and a half in revenue in this year’s budget that’s not going to be in next year’s.”

Haslam pointed again to the reaction when the reality of budget-cutting comes.

“Some blueprints have been laid out for how we’re going to deal with that, but that pain hasn’t been felt yet,” he said. “Showing a plan for how we’re going to make cuts and then making the cuts and feeling those cuts is a whole different thing.”