After a century and a half in the wilderness, the Republican supermajority was supposed to usher in a golden age of conservative governance in Tennessee.
With their numbers giving them the ability to run roughshod over any idea proposed by Democrats, to quash any opposition, to govern without compromise.
They said all the Right things, notably that there’s would be a fiscally conservative hegemony, that thriftiness would rule the day, that state government would never bloat to the outsized levels that Evil Washington had grown.
But as they so often did during this session of the General Assembly, Tennessee’s legislative Republicans showed themselves to be play-acting at conservatism. Their state budget sailed through with a whisper of opposition and, in the end, was the largest in the state’s history.
It was larger than any shepherded by former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh — long cast by the Republicans as Tip O’Neill with a West Tennessee drawl.
As they always do, the legislature busted the so-called Copeland Cap — a constitutional brake on the state budget that supposedly limits its growth, tying it to personal income. It would indeed limit the budget if the General Assembly wasn’t always so eager to override it every session.
In a year when an amendment was proposed to make the cap more difficult to circumvent, the Republicans busted it again by some $132.5 million, which they are free to spend next year and the year after that, and so on and on.
This was, unfortunately, a predictable outcome. Humans can write all the laws they want, but words are rarely a useful dike to holding back government’s growth, only opposition is.
There was no give-and-take in the legislature — there was no need for it. Twenty Democrats with concerns are easily ignored as one, their power just as effective.
Clearly no one within the Republican caucus was all that bothered with this un-conservative budget; if they were, they too were silenced, for not a murmur of dissent was heard from their side of the aisle either.
The great check on the expansion of government power is a vociferous and lively opposition, forcing the majority to scale back its wanton — and that is not too harsh a term for a budget that grew $2 billion in one year — spending.
What Tennessee has instead is a rump group of Democrats — who, frankly, are probably fairly pleased with the budget — and fat-cat Republicans wearing the mask of conservatism, all the while happy to spend ever more of your money.
Oh sure, there were tax breaks — a quarter on $100 worth of groceries! — and there were cuts, including the closure of 34 job centers on the legislature’s last day, which hints that perhaps this Republican power structure was not as committed to job growth as they pretended.
No surprise there: Time and again, they’ve shown they were just pretending to be conservative, too.