The Shortfall is an Opportunity to Trim Fat from State Government

May 5, 2008 9:57PM

By Drew Johnson After years of sunny skies and easy sailing, Tennessee’s economy stands on the precipice of an economic downturn. Simultaneously, the state government faces a budget shortfall likely to exceed a half-billion dollars. Gov. Phil Bredesen and many state lawmakers seem quick to blame the shortfall on a lack of revenue – a politician’s way of suggesting you aren’t paying enough taxes. But the truth is spending created the shortfall. Stupid, wasteful, thoughtless spending. Last year a vibrant economy flooded the state with surplus tax money. Rather than reducing taxes, the Governor and many members of the Tennessee General Assembly went hog wild with most of your surplus tax dollars, embarking on an outrageous bipartisan spending spree. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research recently released the 2008 Tennessee Pork Report, an examination of waste, fraud and abuse of tax dollars in Tennessee. The Pork Report proves that, not only is there government waste in Tennessee, but hundreds of millions of dollars could – and should – be cut from the state budget. For example, lawmakers launched a ferry service linking Benton and Houston counties across the Tennessee River. Taxpayers sank $1.2 million into startup costs and must float another $500,000 per year in operational costs. Through the first 100 days of service, an average of only 23 people a day rode the ferry. Fares start at 75 cents, but taxpayers subsidize each passenger nearly $60 to take the seven-minute trip. State-owned golf courses are among Tennessee’s most indefensible expenditures. The state owns a dozen golf courses; 10 of them failed to break even last year. To keep the greens open, lawmakers force taxpayers to pay for a golf course welfare program that costs nearly $1.5 million annually. The Nashville Film Festival received a $27,620 grant from the publicly funded Tennessee Arts Commission. With that money, the Festival recently screened films including “Goodnight Vagina,” and an animated film called “The Teat Beat of Sex,” which addresses issues ranging from the purpose of female undergarments to the optimal size for sex organs. In addition, $280,000 in tax dollars went for the new green “Watershed” signs popping up along Tennessee’s interstates. Dimmer switches at the Governor’s Mansion cost $14,436. Taxpayers are on the hook for $500,000 for a study – just a study – on the feasibility of a statewide fishing trail. Taxpayers also paid $6.5 million to eradicate the boll weevil beetle. Never mind that the cotton crop-consuming critters were virtually eliminated from Tennessee’s cotton fields a decade ago. The Pork Report alone uncovered over $250 million in waste, fraud and abuse of state tax dollars. That’s $110 for each Tennessee household. And that’s just a start. If a slowing economy has any benefit, it’s that lawmakers must now do what Tennessee families they are elected to serve do every month: prioritize. Careless spending to fund pet projects and reward contributors and cronies must give way to only what the Tennessee Constitution requires, such as paying for education and roads. If Tennessee’s elected leaders take advantage of this opportunity, it will mean fewer shortfalls in bumpy economic times and more money in taxpayers’ pockets when the economy improves. # # #