Gov. Phil Bredesen wrapped up annual budget hearings Monday by saying he’s thinking about eliminating entire functions of state government to overcome a tax revenue shortfall that could exceed $1 billion.
“What I’m looking for is, not only how do you trim, but sometimes the best way to do things is to say, ‘We’re not going to do this thing anymore,’” Bredesen told reporters.
As an example of one service he could eliminate, the governor cited state-funded health care for poor people now delivered by health departments across the state. But he quickly added “that one would be very low on my priority list” because of the hardships of the economic recession.
“To what extent should our health department be in the primary-care business?” Bredesen asked. “It is a relatively recent feature of that department. Maybe rather than keeping paring away at things, you got to say, ‘This is not something we’re doing in our health department in Tennessee.’”
The governor didn't cite any other functions he might consider ending.
During his budget hearings, Bredesen asked his commissioners to tell him how they would cut spending by 9 percent. Among the proposals: Releasing as many as 4,000 nonviolent felons from prisons, and limiting TennCare coverage by capping lab tests and outpatient procedures.
On another issue, Bredesen said he would be willing to call a special session of the legislature to suspend a new law requiring insurance coverage for all construction workers for on-the-job injuries. But he said legislative leaders of both political parties first have to agree on the idea.
“If this is serious enough and there’s enough agreement that the leadership of both parties of both houses say we’d like it, I will certainly do it,” Bredesen said. “But it’s got to be the speakers and the majority and minority leaders and some general agreement that this is something they want to accomplish, and then we can go ahead and do it. If it’s going to be some sort of contentious thing between them, then fine, we’ll deal with it in the regular session.”
Bredesen said he wouldn’t take sides in the fight, which pits small contractors against large ones. Small contractors claim the law, which requires that they buy workers’ compensation insurance by Dec. 31, is so costly it could put thousands of them out of business.