Thursday, December 18, 2008

WTF? Bredesen now sees 'decent' budget year

Posted By on Thu, Dec 18, 2008 at 2:32 PM

click to enlarge Phil_20Bredesen-thumb-200x278.jpg
What's all this talk about a state budget crisis? Gov. Phil Bredesen said today things may not turn out so badly after all, thanks to the massive federal stimulus package that Barack Obama is promising.

No need to upset everyone with a lot of dire talk about service cuts and state employee layoffs when what may happen is "suddenly the feds come up with some money and it all goes away," Bredesen said.

"We actually could end up with a decent year," the governor told reporters in a surprisingly upbeat report on the latest budget maneuverings. "There will be budget cuts everywhere, but it could be 6 or 7 or 8 percent, and there you're not talking about layoffs anymore. You're not talking about closing down major programs or something like that."

Obama and congressional Democrats have promised that soon after Inauguration Day he will sign an economic stimulus bill that could exceed $500 billion. The nation's governors have their hands out for a big chunk of that--perhaps as much as a couple hundred billion for infrastructure projects and Medicaid. In Tennessee, extra federal money to shore up TennCare could amount to more than $500 million, Bredesen said.

The governor also talked about the possibility, if "the economy goes even crazier," of asking state employees to accept unpaid furloughs or shorter work weeks. He said he will ask the legislature to loosen civil service rules as soon as it convenes in January to give him more flexibility to deal with staff cutbacks. The state has been operating under a hiring freeze since May.

Otherwise, Bredesen was in a jovial mood as he chatted with reporters over lunch. (Thankfully, TV crews were prohibited from taping the governor as he chewed his pizza.)

"First of all, as a security measure, would you all please take off your shoes and put them by the door?" Bredesen joked.

He said he's headed to Jackson Hole, Wyo., for a Christmas skiing vacation. "But I'd rather not see my Christmas plans publicized," he said, presumably since he'd prefer that voters think he's spending all his time wringing his hands over looming state layoffs.

As press secretary Lydia Lenker called an end to the lunch, Bredesen feigned distress. "What? We're not going to talk about what I want for Christmas?"

We already know what's topping your list, governor. A federal bailout.


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