For Bredesen, Education Comes Last
By Drew Johnson When it comes to education, it sure seems that Governor Phil Bredesen has his priorities in order. In January, he kicked off the legislative session with a State of the State Address featuring only one topic: education. He followed that up by recommending an “education first” budget stuffed with $407 million in new state education spending, including $120 million for at-risk students. Despite all the education-first grandstanding, a closer look at the budget and Bredesen’s solution for funding his education policy goals reveals there is nothing less important to the Governor than educating children. In order to fund a portion of his proposed increase in education spending, Bredesen hopes to hike taxes on cigarettes. By proposing to raise taxes in order to fund education, the Governor is admitting that education is, in fact, his very last priority. Under this approach, everything else in the budget deserves to be funded before education, and with existing dollars. Think about your own family budget. If you’re like most folks in Tennessee, you use your limited financial resources to take care of the things you consider most important first. Sure, if you have money left over after your priorities are met, you might take a vacation, splurge on a night on the town or buy that new flat screen TV you’ve had your eye on. But you would never spend your money on those less significant items if you hadn’t paid for the things that matter, such as rent or mortgage, food for your family or keeping your utilities turned on. The Administration’s budget spends money on frivolities like building a planetarium, subsidizing state-owned golf courses, promoting organic farming and footing the bill for TennCare recipients to enroll in Weight Watchers. There’s even $123 million in corporate welfare giveaways for well-connected businesses and a $61 million pork project to research prairie grass. While many taxpayers would disagree, Bredesen may argue that there is a place in state government for throwing tax dollars at questionable programs. No one would argue, however, that these projects are more important than the education of the children of our state. No one, that is, except Bredesen and other state leaders who choose to fund pet programs rather than education. For Bredesen, there is not a single thing in Tennessee’s budget worth cutting, downsizing or deprioritizing in order to make way for additional educational projects and programs. Every single dollar guzzled by state government goes for something more important and worthwhile than these new efforts for improving education. Otherwise, the Governor would simply shift money from less important programs to the education initiatives. Luckily, the situation offers the Governor and the General Assembly a golden opportunity to demonstrate leadership by passing a budget that gets the state’s priorities in order and actually puts children first, in their rightful place, in front of bloated bureaucracies and wasteful pork projects. If education truly is Bredesen’s top priority, his budget should reflect it. Rather than raising taxes to fund education, the Governor should trim the fat in other areas of the budget to fund the state’s educational programs. If Bredesen is willing to do that, then, and only then, can the he honestly tell the people of Tennessee that education really does come first. ### Drew Johnson is president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee through the ideas of liberty. Visit TCPR online at: www.tennesseepolicy.org.