U.S. News

Tenn. Dems raise concerns about GOP budget plan

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II|Associated Press Writer

Democratic leaders said Monday they're concerned about a Senate Republican proposal to eliminate $113 million in one-time bonuses for state employees and teachers as part of a plan to close Tennessee's budget gap.

Republicans are drafting an alternative to Gov. Phil Bredesen's proposal to raise $85 million by lifting a sales tax cap on big-ticket items. The overall projected shortfall for the upcoming budget year is about $150 million beyond what the Democratic governor addressed in his original spending plan.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said he has reservations about keeping funds from teachers and state employees "after three years of not giving (them) any money."

"It just seems to me that we've given people more work to do, and there's fewer of them, and now we're saying it's not any money for you," said Kyle, adding that he wants to see the entire GOP plan so he can "understand the whole dynamics."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville agreed.

"The fact of the matter is our state employees over the years have fallen way behind their counterparts in the private sector," Turner recently told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "We're not going to be able to give them a permanent raise this year."

Turner told The Associated Press on Monday that he couldn't reveal details of the Republican plan, but he said "there are some things that are awful hard to swallow."

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he hopes there's a way to "realistically look" at additional revenue to prevent the cuts.

"The governor's proposal to raise some additional funds seems very reasonable to us," he said.

The GOP plan was expected about three weeks ago. But Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville told reporters last week that the plan should be released early this week. He said Senate Republicans had reached a consensus on the issues, and their plan was to meet with House counterparts, including some Democrats.

At one time, Republicans had discussed changing the way funding is allocated for the state's $83 million-per-year pre-kindergarten program to find extra money, but that proposal has been taken off the table.