Opposed to the idea of the state borrowing money, State Senator Mae Beavers and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver both voted against the bridge bonding bill last week in the General Assembly.
The legislature initially considered a bill to issue $350 million in bonds next year for approximately 100 bridges around the state, but rather than borrow the money all at once, state lawmakers adopted a version of the bill to spread it out over four years, giving them a chance to reconsider if the state's financial situation continues to worsen.
Senator Beavers, in an interview with WJLE Friday, said Sligo Bridge remains on the list of "high priority" bridges and she is hopeful that the Tennessee Department of Transportation will use available funds to replace it without the state having to issue general obligation bonds. " I'm against bonding. We're in a place where in Washington they're absolutely borrowing our children and grandchildren into the biggest hole we've ever seen in this country. And for the state to take the same path as the federal government and pass the bonding bill on roads, bridges, or anything, I think was irresponsible. It was more of a statement about my principles personally and the way I've lived my life. We don't borrow money using credit cards when you can't afford to repay it. I think Government should be run the same way."
"What happened on the bonds, there were $350 million in bonds on bridges proposed. The Governor had planned to pay for those over a twelve year period and to pay the interest with stimulus money. It was irresponsible to do that because we knew that the stimulus money would not last that long. So the version of the bill that passed was one to issue $87 million a year for the next three years. It did not extend it out over twelve years," said Beavers
Senator Beavers says lawmakers have been told the state could eventually get more federal stimulus money and those funds, if they come in, could be used for highest priority bridges including Sligo. "The State Comptroller thinks more stimulus money is coming in. He said the money was there."
If additional stimulus money does not come in, Senator Beavers says the state would have the authority to issue general obligation bonds to fund the Sligo project. "The list (of bridges) that we originally had in the budget, the highest priority list that we had seen, had the Sligo bridge as the number two bridge. So if the (Transportation) Commissioner does the right thing and the stimulus money comes in, it (Sligo bridge) will be number two to be funded. If the stimulus money does not come in and they do end up issuing these bonds, it should still be in that first issue of bonds in November. I think you'll see some decision made. You know how political decisions can get on the hill and I would make no guess but I would certainly hope that the Commissioner would do the right thing for the people of DeKalb County, especially those people who would be so seriously affected by the closing of that bridge should that have to occur in the next two or three years. I have stressed that the Sligo bridge and the Cordell Hull bridge (in Smith County) have got to be done."
Senator Beavers also voted against passage of the state budget, preferring instead a Senate version of the spending plan, which the House rejected. "At the end of last week, the Senate thought they had a good version of the budget worked out that I could vote for. Actually they had taken about $67 million in cuts that the Governor had on a proposed list of cuts back before the revenue projections came in on June 6th. Well on June 6th the Governor decided to go with the high end of the revenue projections for the next year and he based his budget on that. We thought that was a bad idea, not knowing what the economy was going to do, and seeing the decreasing revenues in the State of Tennessee. So we (Senate) came up with our own budget. The budget did not include the bonding for the bridges but it set out language in it that when the next stimulus money comes in, it would be for the top six high priority bridges, two of which are Sligo bridge and Cordell Hull bridge in Smith County. But all of that went sour the first of the week. The State House did not like our (Senate) budget and they started negotiating and unfortunately what we came out with, I didn't like, so I voted against the budget, voted against the bonding bill, and voted against breaking the "Copeland Cap" which ties the growth of the state government budget to the growth of personal income. With the stimulus money, it put us over that (cap) and it will put us in a dire situation next year unless the economy really gets going, and we just don't see that happening. I thought it was inconsistent to vote against breaking the "Copeland Cap" and then vote for the budget because I think they go hand in hand."
"We have to have a balanced budget in the State of Tennessee. With the budget that was passed I think we're going to see some dire circumstances this next year and more drastic cuts. I saw this year as one in which we could ward off some of the drastic cuts that would have to be made next year but I think this budget was pretty irresponsible in that respect."
"Unfortunately some state employees lost their jobs this year. I really have an issue with that when I still see some pork in the budget for museums, fish hatcheries, and other things. I took issue with some of the things that went on this year."
Meanwhile, in her weekly legislative wrap, State Representative Weaver gave her reasons for opposing the budget and the bridge bonding bill. "You just can't spend what you do not take in. Tennessee cannot act like Washington and just print more money. We must act responsibly by taking a conservative fiscal approach."
" The budget we were given contained many good things I support however it also consisted of many irresponsible principles that I could not swallow. Rather than making the tough cuts this year that every other state is making, this budget passes the buck assuming that our revenues are growing. Basing our budget on what we think we will take in is a recipe for disaster. So along with eleven other fellow members, I voted to send it back to the drawing board. This is not the time to borrow money we cannot afford. If the Governor is so intent on borrowing why not borrow money to fund the "pork" projects like the museums in Memphis? But no, instead he chose to put our most important bridges at risk of being funded at all."
" Although this budget decreased the Governor's original plan by 10%, we are still $1.2 billion dollars short in revenues, growing the government by $6 billion dollars during this administration and now using one time stimulus funds on recurring expenditures. It would be like making your monthly mortgage payment with your one time tax refund! This would not be done in our household budget and it certainly should not be done on our State Budget."
" Again I stood true to my principles and did what I believed was right for the state of Tennessee. I believe history will prove that a "no" vote was the right vote on this budget."
"Concerning the two bridge projects, Sligo and Cordell Hull, I worked hard to ensure they both be placed in the budget, of which they are. However the Governor instead chose to put our most important bridges on the Bonding Bill. Last I looked both were top priority bridges for 2010."
"Due to the fact that I had the privilege to work closely with the top financial officers of the state, our Treasurer and Comptroller, it gave me the opportunity to understand this most complicated bill called the Governor's budget. Our Constitution requires a balanced budget be passed by June 30th. In order to prevent a government shut down this budget passed and I could not support it."