Legislators predict tight budget year for Tennessee

Hank Hayes • Apr 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Two Northeast Tennessee House Democrats predict damage could come from the fiscal pinch in both federal and state funding.

But neither state Reps. John Litz nor Nathan Vaughn suggested new taxes are needed to fix the problem during an appearance on “Legislative Chat,” a public affairs program produced for public television by East Tennessee State University.

Both Litz, D-Morristown, and Vaughn, D-Kingsport, expressed discontent with federal funding cuts in children’s services but also noted significant cuts may have to be made in state services in passing the next state budget.

“We’re going to pass a balanced budget,” Litz said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to pass one. Just in the last week, we learned the federal government is going to cut $80 million out of the Department of Children’s Services. We’re going to have to make that money up. There are going to have to be some tough cuts made out there.”

The federal government issued a rule change in March that cut off funding for case management in DCS — a move that could affect care for children with medical, behavioral and other needs.

“Children are going to fall through the cracks. ... It’s going to be dramatic. Some of the most vulnerable people in our state are children,” Vaughn, a House Children and Family Affairs Committee member, said of the rule change.

Aside from what might happen at DCS, Vaughn warned that legislation containing high cost estimates won’t pass “plain and simple.”

But revisiting the idea of having a state income tax to balance the budget is not an option, Vaughn added.

“The people of this state made it clear to us they did not want an income tax,” Vaughn said.

A House Democratic Caucus talking points document held by Litz said balancing the state budget will require “some significant cuts, and that means Tennesseans will feel that cut in the services and resources that often go unseen.”

“It’s tough to make cuts,” said Litz. “You end up hurting somebody along the way no matter what. If we had extra revenue every year, it would probably be easier to operate, but that’s not how things work in the real world.”

Both Litz and Vaughn are up for re-election this year in districts that are mostly Republican. Litz is unopposed. Vaughn has an opponent — Republican Tony Shipley of Colonial Heights.

Vaughn said voters are turned off by partisan politics, but he is in the middle of a campaign that has already started before the end of the legislative session.

“In the second year of our term we really get caught up into the partisanship that has become indicative of the political landscape of this nation,” Vaughn said. “That’s something that we’ve got to stop. It makes absolutely no sense for the people we represent. And the people need to hold us accountable. They need to make sure we are addressing the issues important to them. ... People didn’t elect me to be a Democrat. They elected me to be a representative of the people. ... (But) I think there are some real positives associated with having an opponent. You get to put the issues on the table that are important to people.”

Litz also addressed the possibility that Tennessee’s next governor might be former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and whether Democrats could lose their majority in the state House.

“Senator Frist is a pretty smart individual. ... If he does decide to run and get elected, I’m sure he’ll surround himself with enough good people in state government to help him out,” Litz said. “Anything could swing (in the House), and it could go the other way. The Republicans are going to need to pick up some vulnerable seats.”

Litz’s and Vaughn’s appearance on “Legislative Chat” is scheduled to be aired Sunday, May 4, at 11 p.m. on WETP-TV Channel 2 and WKOP-TV Channel 15.

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