Recession and budget shortfall on the minds of state lawmakers

The national and global recession is hitting Tennessee state government in the pocketbook, and lawmakers say the toughest challenge this session will be overcoming a $1 billion projected revenue shortfall.

During a regional legislative breakfast at the Foundry in downtown Knoxville on Jan. 9, the Chambers of Blount County, Oak Ridge and Knoxville joined together to share the priorities they want the area’s state lawmakers to pursue.

The chambers outlined their major points for the joint legislative assembly. The priorities, which include education, transportation, high-tech economic development and workers’ compensation reform, are offered in detail on the website, www.BlountToday.com.

State Sen. Doug Overbey said that in the current fiscal year and next fiscal year lawmakers would be dealing with the shortfall. “Other programs may well have to be adjusted so we can fund the requirements of the BEP (Basic Education Program),” he said.

Overbey said the national and global economic recession is affecting our entire state. “I think one of the things we need to continue to do is look for ways to support our current manufacturing base like Alcoa and Denso as well as look for other economic development opportunities,” he said.

State Rep. Joe McCord said the state budget overshadows everything this session. “This is historic. This year, everything is secondary. Like every other state, we’re all dealing with the same issues,” he said.

McCord said that changes would take place in committees as Republicans take over both houses of the legislature for the first time in 140 years. “That will give you a fresh look at tort reform issues. It will be a great opportunity for the Republican Party. We have to be cautious and take advantage of the opportunities given,” he said. “We can’t try to restructure the world. We don’t have the money.”

State Rep. Bob Ramsey said the biggest challenge would be what to do with the budget deficit. “It’s going to affect us this year and in the future. It will require our utmost attention to make sure we don’t adversely affect people’s lives and the service the state provides,” he said.

Ramsey said Republicans must make every effort to make the change in leadership for state government as efficient as possible for the needs of the citizens. Ramsey, a former Blount County Commission chair, was elected to his first term in the state house in November.

Former WBIR-TV anchor Bill Williams moderated the legislative breakfast that outlined the priorities of the three chambers for this legislative session.

“In this difficult national economic climate, we need to work together to capitalize on the strengths of UT, DOE, McGhee Tyson and TVA so the Innovation Valley is a recognized hub of high-tech economic development,” he said.

Williams said regional cooperation must extend to the regional legislative agenda. “We’re working to ensure the area is attractive to new businesses and existing business,” he said.

Education was a major focus. “I think we all know economic prosperity is dependent on students who are prepared for the future. We must transform education so that the students come out ready for the work place or secondary training,” he said. “The higher standards must not be weakened.”

The chambers also urged lawmakers to reject any proposal for the election of school directors or mandatory consolidation of school systems.

The chambers also asked for fair workers’ compensation laws and for a major road project in Blount County to be completed. “We urge TDOT to complete Pellissippi Parkway to US Highway 321,” Williams said.

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