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VOL. 125 | NO. 80 | Monday, April 26, 2010

Haslam: State Budget Must Be Whittled in Small Pieces

The Memphis News

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam says the next governor will have to make some difficult decisions about state spending.

We talked with the mayor of Knoxville during a recent Memphis visit about how much can realistically be cut from state government and the impact of national health care reform on the state budget.

Is there any function state government is now performing that it shouldn’t be involved in?

A: “I don’t think it’s a whole function. It’s usually pieces within that function.

What about a real estate inventory – to see what state government owns and why?

A: “That’s a very important thing for the state to do over time. ... Thirty years ago, there was a World’s Fair in Knoxville and the city owned all of these buildings around the park. Well, we just kept owning them. Everybody thought some master developer was going to come in there and buy the whole thing. ... We sold them and started collecting property tax. We started not having to pay maintenance on those buildings. And we got the money from selling them. It was kind of a triple hit for taxpayers.”

What about privatization or other forms of outsourcing?

A: “I don’t think you’re going to see us go wholesale into that. But we’re in a different day. ... We’re not going to raise taxes, I don’t care who the next governor is. I’m saying I’m not going to. … The only choice is to think more creatively about how you do government. Are we going to go into massive privatization? I don’t think so. But should we look at that in some places? Yes.

You said 6 percent cuts across every division of state government won’t work for the next governor. So what is the next step?

A: “If you look at what some other states have done, they’ve made up some significant ground just by centralizing their purchasing power."

A lot of the money for TennCare is federal funding passed through to the state. Is the next governor limited in what he or she can do with TennCare?

A: “Gov. Bredesen, when he came into office, it was about 30 percent-plus of the state budget. He said it was too much and cut it back to be about 25 percent. ... He took about 150,000 (people) off the rolls and then he cut what he paid providers. There are problems with that going forward. ... The new health care plan just added 250,000 people back. ... And in cutting the providers – at some point in time there’s only so much of that you can do before the doctors and others say, ‘I’m just not going to accept TennCare patients.’ Then you’ve cut off your nose to spite your face."

PROPERTY SALES 74 74 17,939
MORTGAGES 95 95 20,660
BUILDING PERMITS 141 141 36,977
BANKRUPTCIES 59 59 11,485