Haslam Questions McWherter’s Budget Assessment in TTU Debate, McWherter Says State Can Help Business

Tennessee’s two leading candidates for governor sparred in a debate Tuesday night at Tennessee Tech, concluding by asking questions of each other on live TV. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam tried to discredit his opponent’s budget assessment.

Democrat Mike McWherter is quick to praise Governor Phil Bredesen for many accomplishments, including stewarding the state through a fiscal rollercoaster of lower tax revenue and federal stimulus money. McWherter says he’s glad the state has used one-time stimulus money for non-recurring expenses. But Haslam, the Republican candidate, says McWherter’s assessment is rosier than reality.

HASLAM: “I know higher education, like this institution here, has about $300 million in this budget that’s not going to be there next year that’s going away. TennCare, hardly one-time expenses, over $400 million. Are you really unaware of that? And if so, can you explain how you don’t know that?”

MCWHERTER: “Bill, frankly, I disagree with your figures.”

Stimulus money has been used on operating expenses for colleges and to reduce enrollment cuts to TennCare.

McWherter’s attacks against Haslam were more personal in nature, trying to tie the one-time president of Pilot Corporation to its price-gouging violations.

McWherter tried a number of ways to highlight differences from his opponent, Bill Haslam. The Jackson businessman was so eager to show splits between himself and Haslam, he even said the two disagree on an issue – mountain top removal – when both are opposed. McWherter did give an unwavering commitment to expand Pre-K in the state, while Haslam says there’s just no money to offer Pre-K to every child.

McWherter also wants to spend more on economic development. He’s proposed tax cuts to small businesses that create jobs.

“There are too many Tennessee businesses that have shut their doors. There are too many Tennesseans who have not had a pay raise in a long time. Bill says there is very little you can do to help. I think he’s wrong.”

In reaction, Haslam questions how McWherter will expand programs or offer new incentives without raising taxes.

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