Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Not Much To Add, or Plop!

Well, Governor Phil Bredesen released the new budget yesterday and it's just what he said it would be: serious cuts all around. So far, so good.

Naturally, even though the Tennessee public television network made the speech available to WKNO, they chose to show a Suze Orman "grow wealth" infomercial instead. It is pledge week after all, and priorities are priorities! So, I missed the speech itself.

This morning, Bill Hobbs (here, here, here, here, and here) and South Knox Bubba
(here, here, here, here, here,
and here) had great, detailed looks at the budget. I can't really add anything more here and won't. Just follow the links and read up. They both cover this in closer looks than the local paper!

The Commercial Appeal had two stories, see the links above. One was a quickly written overview, hitting high points, but lacking close scrutiny. The other was a lengthy recitation of everyone locally who will suffer.

What mostly stuck out was the lack of legislative comment. Two Democrats and one Republican gave qualified support, saying they expect little change. Even House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who predicted the universe would end if a budget like this came to pass, has shown amazing deference to Bredesen's budget. That's too odd for words. Is he that craven? Or does he know something about the process down the road and so isn't worried? After all his grim-faced predictions and bullying threats last year, once he lost he still kept alive the idea of the income tax. Immediately after losing the vote, he claimed the IT was dead forever. But as the weeks wore on, he kept reducing the time before he expected to bring it back before the House. After Bredesen's election, he shut up altogether, although the State's papers kept up the drum-beat in new and more muted language.

So why is he so rah-rah now? I can't see that Bredesen has cowed him, nor can I see that Naifeh has suddenly had a major change of heart and mind. Something's missing, I think.

Bill Hobbs thinks that Bredesen has performed a miracle of triangulation. The Governor made sure that education got an increase while everything else is cut and other funds are raided. As Bill sees it, Bredesen has set up a situation where anyone proposing to block cuts or increase other spending has to justify why it's more important than education. It's "the children" vs. whatever you propose: roads, health care, State parks, etc. Pretty clever, if true, and deadly if Bredesen carries it out.

There's just something wrong about this! Everyone connected to the State government teat has, for the last four years, fought tooth and nail, without apology or mercy, to keep spending going up for themselves or their projects. Now, with the exception so far of rural teachers, they are all silent and making cuts, the very cuts they swore were impossible. It's miraculous.

That's the problem. It's almost too good. Bredesen has created the very budget no one said could be done. He's so far fought off all comers, education excepted and that's OK. He's delivered the budget to the expected complaints, but not to any threats or promises of torpedoing, rural teachers already noted. Legislators are saying that they don't expect to do much tinkering, because they'll have to justify it.

Have I entered Bizzaro Tennessee? Nine months and some personnel changes have made this much of a difference? I still think there's another shoe waiting to drop.

Watching the wrangling over the setup of the lottery scholarships, promises made before the vote now being modified, makes me think that Bredesen's budget will get a rough working over by Legislators and lobbyists. It's just that they're being quiet right now, and will work quietly in the coming months, to keep the fuss down. Time will tell, I suppose. If I'm wrong, feel free to mock me in May.

So far Bredesen has kept his word and matched that word with action. He's to be applauded and respected for that. He's already making it clear he intends to do major surgery on TennCare, and not slap a Band-aid over it, to paraphrase him. I think he should just return the TennCare waiver to the Federal government and get it over with, but the former health-care business turn-around specialist in him seems to want the challenge. Good luck there, too.

He's bitten off some serious chew. He's chewing. I think he has yet to bite down on some of the bits of bone waiting for him. The next three months will tell that tale.

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