Trimming the Fat from the State Budget Would Save Taxpayers Millions

May 5, 2006 10:09PM

By Drew Johnson The Tennessee Center for Policy Research’s 2006 Tennessee Pork Report shows plenty of room for improvement when it comes to state government spending. It’s May, which means that it’s budget time at the Tennessee State Capitol. Last year, state legislators spent $4,460 for every man, woman and child in Tennessee. This year—despite a state budget that figures to top $26 billion—the governor and many legislators are calling for even more. Before allowing legislators to create more programs and take even more money from the pockets of state taxpayers, it’s time that Tennesseans ask the question “are state policymakers doing a good job of spending the money they already have?” The answer, according to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research’s 2006 Tennessee Pork Report, is a resounding “no!” In evaluating the Tennessee state budget, state audits and media reports, the Pork Report uncovered over $240 million in state government waste, fraud and abuse of Tennessee tax dollars. That’s nearly a quarter of a billion dollars of your money wasted by state government. Where did all of that money go? The answers are surprising and infuriating. For example, Tennessee state legislators will be rolling out the red carpet for legislators from across the country when Nashville hosts the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting this August. Rather than serving as an example of fiscal restraint for policymakers from other states, Tennessee’s legislators stuck taxpayers with a $700,000 tab for the party, including money for local transportation, children’s programs, entertainment and 2,000 Tennessee-themed T-shirts. No issue cast a longer shadow on Tennessee’s political landscape then TennCare. Despite cutting over 173,784 TennCare recipients from the $8.7 billion healthcare bureaucracy, the cost of Tennessee’s Medicaid program continues to spiral out of control. One reason is the agency’s own carelessness. Last year taxpayers spent $784,205 to provide TennCare benefits to dead people, marking the fourth consecutive year that the state made payments for services to deceased enrollees. More infuriatingly, the TennCare Bureau made no attempt to recoup the misallocated funds. Under the banner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the state owns eight supposedly self-sustaining golf courses. Of the eight courses, however, only two generated enough revenue to cover operation costs. In all, taxpayers spent $436,590 to subsidize the state’s failing golf courses, raising the question of why state government is in the golf business in the first place. State legislators voted to spend $14.3 million to refurbish Legislative Plaza, the underground annex of the State Capitol that serves to house the General Assembly’s committee rooms and many legislative offices. In spite of the legislature’s recent ethics scandals, part of that steep expense went to build a secret “cloakroom” hidden behind the Senate’s primary conference room. The cloakroom is lavishly furnished with a bar area, 14 chairs costing over $900 each and a high definition 50-inch flat screen television set that retails for over $3,600. These examples illustrate that Tennessee’s Governor and state legislators don’t just having a spending problem. They have a spending addiction. Tennesseans feel the effects of the addiction every time they go the grocery store, buy a new pair of shoes or fill up at the gas pump. Now is the time for taxpayers to call for an intervention and end the state government’s spending addiction once and for all. Governor Bredesen should lead the charge against wasteful spending by calling for a state commission to analyze every nook and cranny of the state budget in order to root out waste, fraud and abuse. Simply slashing the waste uncovered in the Pork Report would save enough money to lower Tennessee’s 6% state sales tax on groceries to less than 2%. It’s time Tennessee lawmakers take a cue from taxpayers and learn to live within their means—a move that would benefit the bottom line of all Tennesseans. ###