House Speaker Kent Williams wants to dip deeper into the state’s budget reserves. That’s to hold off cuts to family programs, TennCare, and higher education. And Williams blames “feel good legislation” for bogging down the current session, forcing it to wrap up later than hoped.
Lawmakers are currently tweaking the budget proposed by Governor Phil Bredesen. Williams says that proposal would leave Tennessee with about $650 million in reserves.
He says he’d like to use more of that money to hold off a few budget cuts, at least for the time being. Williams says lawmakers have to be responsible, both fiscally and morally.
“A lot of our citizens are already suffering with some of the cuts we’ve had to make with our family services, and you know, we have some citizens that can’t take care of themselves, and it’s our obligation to do that. I just can’t have it on my conscious to see people suffer and us go home with money in the bank.”
Williams says that he’d like to pull around $100 to 150 million more from the state’s reserves. But if the state funding board lowers its estimate of expected tax revenues by $50 to 100 million, Williams says he’ll be “back to square one.”
Williams says he would’ve liked to wrap up the session near the end of April and “save taxpayers some money,” but now it’s looking more like the end of May.
Williams says in part that’s because of “feel good” bills that sponsors know have no real chance of passage. Given the election year, he says many legislators are pushing unrealistic bills that only look good on paper.
He says each piece of legislation filed costs the state over a thousand dollars, and some lawmakers carry up to 50. And Williams says it’s clear some bills have no chance, like those that would stress the state’s frail budget.
“And we have members that run the same legislation every year, since I’ve been here – four years – and they’ll run it through the system until they know it’s not going any further, and they’ll take it off notice. We play too many political games.”
Williams says as speaker there’s relatively little he can do to curb frivolous bills. The rules committee is considering limiting each lawmaker to carrying 15 bills, but Williams says that won’t happen unless the majority of the House consents.
Below you can hear raw audio from Williams’ speaking last week, as well as a brief interview afterward.