With help from new Republican friends, Gov. Phil Bredesen unveiled another plan this morning to triple the cigarette tax to improve schools. Bredesen's first idea was floundering in the legislature. But this time, the governor can claim a bipartisan stamp of approval, at least for some of the 40-cents-a-pack increase he's asking for.
Bredesen, who spoke to a joint session of the legislature, is winning more legislative support by agreeing to revamp the state's education funding formula to benefit urban school systems, particularly Knoxville's and Chattanooga's. Senate Education Committee Chair Jamie Woodson, a Republican from Knoxville, worked with the governor's office to craft the compromise.
The plan would be phased in over several years at a cost of $475 million. Bredesen wants to spend around $280 million in the first year. His cigarette tax increase would raise $220 million. Bredesen also said this morning that new revenue figures indicate the state may collect a surplus of close to $300 million for this budget year.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says Republicans in the Senate are for the new plan "because we're the ones who developed it." But he adds that he'd still like to hold the cigarette tax increase to something less than 40 cents.