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Budget outlines cuts with silver lining for Memphis

  • Written by Reginald Tate
This week we listened to Gov. Bill Haslam’s first State of the State address, in which he outlined the year ahead for Tennessee.
 Sen. Reginald Tate

This week we listened to Gov. Bill Haslam’s first State of the State address, in which he outlined the year ahead for Tennessee. The message was one of cautious optimism and a need for continued prudence concerning state spending. Overall, it wasn’t much different than the budgets we have seen under former Gov. Phil Bredesen. The main difference was the absence of expiring federal stimulus funds, which will be replaced by increasing sales tax revenues and across-the-board cuts in state departments.

The good news from Monday’s speech is that Tennessee is on its way back, but it will be a long road to get there. It will take another three years before we reach pre-recession revenue levels, and even then, we will be doing more with less. Over the last four years, we have cut the state payroll by nearly 4,000 workers, and those numbers will drop even lower under this budget.

With that in mind, Haslam proposed to provide state employees with a 1.6 percent pay raise, the first they would receive in four years.

“If we are going to have a great higher education system and hard-working state employees, we cannot continue to ask them to go without raises,” Haslam said. There will also be cuts to state jobs, however: 1,200, with half coming from vacant positions and the other half coming mainly from closing two mental health facilities.

The governor’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year was a mixed bag for Memphis and Shelby County. On one hand, the Memphis Research Consortium would receive $10 million under the governor’s proposal, which could pay big dividends for our public universities, our hospitals and medical researchers across the state. Matching state funds for Electrolux are also included, after a brief period during which it appeared they might be in limbo – and Electrolux’s jobs both here and in Springfield, Tenn., might have been gone.

On the other hand, the budget proposes eliminating the Governor’s Office on Children’s Care Coordination, which provides vital care for mothers and infants in areas like Memphis, which has one of the nation’s highest infant mortality rates. The budget calls for those services to be transferred to the Department of Health, but it remains to be seen how they might be affected. Public universities, including the University of Memphis, will also take a budget hit.

The governor’s address Monday was just the first step in the budget process, which now becomes the most important task in the state legislature. Please continue to let me know your thoughts about the budget, because I want to make your priorities my own.

(Senator Reginald Tate represents portions of Memphis and Shelby County. Contact him at sen.reginald.tate @capitol.tn.gov or (615) 741-2509 or 320 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0033)

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