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Tenn. senate head questions stimulus use for cuts

Deeper Tennessee spending cuts may need to come sooner than originally planned because of worsening economic conditions, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Deeper Tennessee spending cuts may need to come sooner than originally planned because of worsening economic conditions, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday.

The Blountville Republican said he's also concerned about Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen's plan to use federal stimulus money to ease the severity of cuts.

"I honestly believe in some cases the stimulus package is going to make things worse, because it does mask the problem," Ramsey said.

Ramsey, who is considering running for governor next year, said the state could be in worse shape once the two-year stimulus package runs out.

"I have a vested interest in what the budget looks like in January of 2011," he said.

Tennessee is projected to receive about $4.5 billion in stimulus money over the next two years. Bredesen's budget proposal envisions using the stimulus money to phase in more gradual cuts than would have otherwise been necessary.

Higher education alone would receive more than $470 million in federal stimulus money over the next three years under Bredesen's plan.

Ramsey's position on the stimulus money is drawing criticism from Democrats.

"Anyone who suggests that the stimulus package is going to make things worse is out of touch with reality," said House Democratic Leader Gary Odom of Nashville.

"The impact on education and health care, infrastructure, unemployment compensation, all of these areas would be devastated," he said. "The stimulus money is going to assist us in dealing with the immediate challenges we have."

Democratic Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis agreed.

"The stimulus money helps let us help people while we can," Kyle said. "I would hope (Ramsey's) view is the minority view."

The State Funding Board was scheduled to hear revenue projections for the upcoming budget year on Friday.

"We thought it was bad at the beginning of session, and we ain't seen nothing yet," Ramsey said. "This is getting into scary times."

Ramsey said he will wait for the official word on the state's finances before laying out his approach to the cuts.

"I don't want to make a lot of predictions, but I feel confident that some of the cuts are going to be deeper, or at least accelerated into this year," he said.