The news? Ramsey warned the legislature could consider hiring its own lawyer to sue if Cooper won’t do it. The Senate speaker also denied he’s beating his chest so hard on this issue because he’s running for governor. Here are excerpts:
Q: Senator Marrero indicated that she thinks the people of Tennessee support this law. What’s your take on that?
Ramsey: I think at the bare minimum it’s about 50-50. I am looking out for the fiscal welfare of the state of Tennessee. Our own governor has called this the mother of all unfunded mandates. At a minimum it’s going to start the state additionally starting in the year 2014 about $250 million. If there’s one thing I have learned about figures coming out of Washington, D.C., add about 50 percent to that. It may be as high as $400 million. Keep in mind in good times, when things are booming going really well in the state of Tennessee as they were in ’06 and ’07, that would eat every penny of the money coming into the state of Tennessee of new growth, money that should be used for corrections, money that should be used for highways, money that should be used for education. That’s in good times. But we’re not in good times right now. We’ve had 21 months of declining revenue in a row. So to add another $250 million to $400 million to our state deficit would be devastating. We can’t print money like the do in Washington, D.C. We have to live within our means. The only thing the constitution requires us to do before we adjourn and leave here in the next few weeks is to pass a balanced budget. … This is maybe the largest unfunded mandate that the federal government has ever pushed down on the states.
Q: Sixteen other states are filing this lawsuit. Why should Tennessee do it? If the law is unconstitutional, we’ll find out. What’s the point of Tennessee getting involved?
Ramsey: Because it’s a worthy cause, and I think we ought to be doing this. We ought to join those other states to make that statement. There may be power in numbers. … We’re getting close to having the majority of the states in this union thinking this law could be unconstitutional. I think that we as Tennessee, as the volunteer state, need to stand up and say that we’re tired of the federal government pushing unfunded mandates down on us. We’re of them telling us what we have to do and not sending the money with it. So therefore, we want to join in with this lawsuit with the other states that are doing it.
Q: Why not take concrete steps? In Georgia, they’re talking about appointing their own special counsel. Instead of introducing this resolution, why not introduce something that says the legislature will appoint a special counsel?
Ramsey: We’re taking it a step at a time, to be honest. First, you urge him to do that. … If he refuses, then you look at the next step. I don’t know what that’ll be right now. But I think we would have the power to hire outside counsel if it came to that point. … That’s what we’re trying to do, urge our attorney general to put this forward. If he refuses to do that, we’ll have to go to the next step whatever that might be.
Q: Would you be doing this if you weren’t running for governor?
Ramsey: Absolutely. This is the reason. I want to be the next governor of the state of Tennessee. I’ve made no secret about that. But I believe I’m either going to be governor or hopefully lieutenant governor, and one way or the other, we as legislators who are standing up here right now and all 132 legislators are going to have to face this no matter what. All 132 legislators are going to have to face this huge unfunded mandate one way or the other. So yes, I’d be up here doing exactly the same thing.