"We can't put this off. It's going to be tough. Could we take this money and just kind of plug holes? Other states are apparently doing that right now. But that is the wrong fiscal thing to do."
Naturally, Ramsey is short on specifics of funding cuts he'd like to make. That's because he doesn't really know what he's talking about. That much became apparent as reporters pressed the Senate speaker to explain himself.
"I know the philosophy where I am, but I haven't filled all the holes in yet. We're working with this. ... I honestly believe that in some cases the stimulus money is going to make things worse because it does mask a problem."
Ramsey sells his argument as fiscal prudence: If we don't cut now, we'll only have to do it in two years when the stimulus money disappears. But that's assuming the stimulus doesn't work. His claim that the money will create more problems than it solves goes against the consensus among economists who say the spending is necessary to any recovery. Whatever happens, it's impossible to predict how deeply Tennessee might have to cut in 2011. Why do it before it's necessary?
The answer is easy: Because Ramsey's running for governor, and the kind of conservatives who vote in Republican primaries would love him for it. Never mind that state government services already are pathetically meager, or that chopping colleges and causing student tuition hikes might not play so well in the general election. Ramsey's not worried about that. He's going after the teabagger vote. So he needs to come across as a heartless, penny pinching, government-hating nutjob. He's doing a good job of that so far. As the budget debate begins, here's a question for the legislature: Should we dismantle state government to help Ramsey's campaign for governor?