House Democrats offered their own alternative state budget plan Wednesday, calling for spending from the state's rainy day fund to prevent cuts proposed by Senate Republicans.
"The budget proposal offered by Senate Republicans is unacceptable and shows a fundamental lack of compassion for Tennesseans. What Tennesseans need is a budget that will lead them to recovery, not ruin," House Democratic leader Gary Odom said.
House Speaker Kent Williams, meanwhile, denounced the senators, specifically Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, as irresponsible and unscrupulous.
“I think in the Senate, it’s more politics. I guarantee if we didn’t have members running for governor and Congress, we would have already passed this budget. It’s a political statement, and you just don’t play political games at the stake of our citizens," said Williams, himself a Republican.
Out of the rainy day fund, Democrats say they would restore $34 million in teacher pay cuts, $6 million in cuts in farm investments, $100 million in state employee pay bonuses and $3.5 million in cuts to public safety. Republican senators proposed those reductions Tuesday to eliminate planned tax increases by Gov. Phil Bredesen.
"Our rainy day fund is for a rainy day," Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry said, "and here in Tennessee, it's raining."
Williams also said it's morally wrong to make more spending cuts and leave $500 million in the state's reserve funds.
“Morally, how can we do that and go home with $500 million in the bank. I just don’t get it. I just don’t get it and I hope everyone in here will toe the line and hang tough and do what’s best for the people of Tennessee and not give in to these pressures.”
In response, Ramsey told the Chattanooga Times Free Press: "I think we’re doing exactly what the citizens of the state want us to. We’re living within our means. We’re balancing our budget through cuts and not through tax increases.”