The Real Consequences Of Tennessee’s Budget On Tennesseans

It’s budget time in Tennessee. Yeah, we have a battle for a new state song (shouldn’t we just set up a state radio station and add a song once a year because this always seems to be something we are talking about in the legislature.)

This, my friends, is when things get ticky, bipartisanship does not exist, and everyone wants something cut as long as it’s THEIR something not cut.

Good times. Sort of like good times of being stranded with a flat tire on a back road during the middle of a tornado.

Health insurance, even on a day when unicorns are flying about and puppies are sleeping next to kittens in a pillow of strawberry ice cream cones, is

State Bidness

hard to understand for the lay person. Of course I’m talking as much about myself as anyone. In my last five years of working for a small corporation (they will tell you business, I say corporation) our insurance was changed about three times. Our salaries never went up due to the economy but our health insurance premiums soared. This has happened to countless people over the years and is not a new story.

It doesn’t matter who it happens to because those of us who have been through it knows it hurts something awful.

According to Betsy Phillips at Pith in the Win, state employees are experiencing the same dilemma.  They are also looking at pay cuts.

State employees I’ve talked to are angry and concerned and feel like they are being pressured financially into participating in something they don’t really understand, but suspect is not as benign as is being claimed. They are also, obviously, not willing to go on record to say so, times being what they are and new jobs being hard to come by.

And that’s not the only thing happening. The Board of Regents are talking pretty hefty increases from 6 percent to 22 percent for technical schools. Because right now tech schools are the place unemployed folks are going to reeducate themselves after unemployment has whopped them upside their heads. Not everyone, but it should be noted. Stimulus money only goes so far and it will have to be replaced because it runs out next year.

Students at Tennessee Board of Regents universities, community colleges and technical centers could pay tuition increases as low as 6 percent and as high as 22 percent higher in the fall semester — depending on the institution — to replace lost state funds.

As Steve Ross noted in Morning Coffee, legislators have had the budget since February.  The key comes down to a $150 million dollar shortfall in the state’s budget which is sitting there on the horizon waiting. Now it comes down of what can be saved, what can be delayed and what will be lost.

Due to the recent focus on taxes, the question that lawmakers will have to look at is what can average Tennesseans actually do without hemorrhaging money and needed services.

One thing of note on today’s committee calendar in Finance, Ways and Means is a bill sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney (D) and Rep. Mike Turner (D) is that a bill to freeze per diem for Tennessee legislators until 2014. (Bill reference #’s SB3650 and HB3778 respectfully.) Here is a breakdown of the bill at Finney’s website. In another note, that bill did pass subcommittee unanimously.

The budget will be in the news and it will also be interesting to see if the committee will advance that bill as well. It’s very hard to tell state employees and student they will have to sacrifice for the bigger picture without the guys in charge not doing the same thing.

And that, my friends, is one of the rubs.

No one wants higher taxes, that’s a given, but we do have to pay for some crazy things. I don’t know, like public schools, roads and I think most reasonable Tennesseans know that. On the other hand, we do want to see that we aren’t being force-fed mandated sacrifices for this great state willy nilly.

We will be watching this week’s events carefully. It’s a slippery slope between what has to be done and how bad it’s going to hurt.

More as we find it …

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