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Democrats and Republicans are hiding from reporters and holding secret meetings
all over the Capitol to hash out the state budget. Why would they want to conduct the public's business in public? Someone might say something stupid. In fact, that's guaranteed to happen. As House GOP caucus chair Glen Casada says, "People do not speak openly when they're afraid that their concerns and fears may be written as fact."
But a few minutes ago, House Democratic caucus chair Mike Turner took a break from the secret discussions, walked into the pressroom and tossed a few bombs at Republicans. Happy days are here again! We knew they couldn't stay away forever.
According to Turner, Senate Republicans want to lay off 700 state employees immediately, rather than over the next year, to save $30 million. Also, he says Republicans are trying to kill bonds for $350 million in bridge replacement projects. (We knew that already.) And he says they're trying to pull some kind of switcheroo on the governor's pre-K program, taking the money out of lottery reserves. That would jeopardize the future of pre-K, according to Turner, because lottery reserves are supposed to start dwindling in the economic downturn.
What does it all mean? "I do think we'll be here next week," Turner says. "I don't think there's a chance in hell we'll get out of here this week. ... If what I have heard is where they are, they're a world away from where we are." More Turner:
"I think we're headed for a conference committee, and I think this conference committee could last a week. I've never seen a conference committee last that long. This could be some tough times."
Is the governor's departure for Europe next week for the entire week going to hurt matters?
I didn't know he was going. He didn't ask me to go with him. Uh, that's uh, let that slide, guys. I don't know what to say about that. (Turner later said he'd been told a couple of weeks ago that Bredesen was going to Europe, but he just forgot.)
Turner says Democrats are meeting tomorrow with the state employees association to try to find ways to mitigate layoffs. He said shorter work weeks are one possibility. On the bridge bonds, he said:
"There's nothing we could do in this state to put people to work immediately than to bond those bridges. Construction costs are down, labor costs are down, finances are down. It's the perfect time. If we're going to borrow money in this state, it would make sense to do it now. It would put people to work immediately. We're for doing that. There's nothing we can do here in the legislature that would create jobs any faster. Building those bridges would do that."
What about next year?
"We could lay off as many as 1,400, 2,000 people next year without blinking an eye, if things don't start turning around, and most economists are saying that it won't start turning around until the following year."
: Campfield taunts Democrats
. "Well ladies, its [sic] time to put on your big boy pants ..."