State of the States
Education 'Vital' in Bredesen Budget
Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee has unveiled what he calls the "family budget" and says its goal is to prevent cuts to K-12 education while making significant cuts in most other programs.
Gov. Bredesen announced in a speech to the legislature March 10, the $21.5 billion plan for the fiscal 2004 state budget would allot $27 million to raising teacher salaries in 75 of the state's rural and impoverished school districts.
He said his plan would also bring Tennessee into compliance with orders from a 2002 state supreme court ruling last year that found the present salary system unconstitutional. ("Court Orders Tennessee to Level Teacher Pay," Oct. 16, 2002).
It would also keep the state's per-pupil funding formula at current levels.
Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat who took office in January, named K-12 education, health care, and homeland-security initiatives as "vital" priorities. To protect those priorities and balance the budget, he proposes to decrease appropriations in other spending areas by $355 million from last year's levels. As a result, most other state programs, including higher education, would see 9 percent cuts.
The governor said he dubbed his plan the "family budget" because the legislature needs to act like a household and prepare a realistic, balanced budget.
"I'm simply asking us to do the same thing that every family in our state has to do," he said.
In the face of severe budget woes in the past several years, the legislature has used accounting gimmicks, cut spending and increased state sales and business taxes to stave off an income tax.
The state will have to use up the remainder of its rainy-day fund to cover a $500 million shortfall that is projected in the coming year, Gov. Bredesen said.
Gov. Bredesen also said that, over the next year, his office will study the state's education funding system, and that he would propose a long-term strategy to improve teacher pay.
Vol. 22, Issue 29, Page 29