Governor Phil Bredesen began his annual budget hearings Monday morning with a warning.
“There’s nothing trimming the fat about what we’re doing this year. We’re very much into muscle and bone and everything else.”
Bredesen expects to hack out a billion dollars to balance next year’s budget. He’s asked departments to plan for as much as 9% reductions.
First up in the hearings today was the state’s largest expense – education. The department has a $5 billion budget this year. But instead of lopping off 9%, Education Commissioner Tim Webb only looked at what he considers discretionary spending and came up with nearly $12 million in reductions.
Governor Bredesen questioned the reasoning, though he’s been supportive of maintaining K-12 funding. He also asked what would happen if the state chose not to add $82 million next year for inflation. Webb said districts would have little choice but to lay off teachers.
“The lion’s share of that money, as we all well know, is on salaries and benefits. So I think the first thing that would have to happen, they would have to reevaluate some of their personnel issues they have in their existing budgets.”
Roughly $3.5 billion is funneled to school districts through what’s called the Basic Education Plan or BEP.