Haslam, McWherter Differ on Budget

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Bill Haslam and Democrat Mike McWherter disagree over the severity of the budget crunch facing Tennessee’s next governor.
Haslam says it’s “not a done deal” for lawmakers to approve more than $1 billion in cuts envisioned by term-limited Gov. Phil Bredesen because the federal stimulus money is running out.
That’s why he dismisses as unaffordable McWherter’s proposals to expand the state’s pre-kindergarten program, create a tax incentive program for job creation in small businesses and extend broadband coverage to rural areas.
McWherter in turn argues that his opponent is being more gloomy about the state’s prospects than is necessary.
Haslam’s response: “I’m not running on bad news, I’m defining reality.”
Voters decide Tuesday who will become Tennessee’s next governor, a choice between two wealthy candidates trying to step out of the shadow of their legendary fathers.

Haslam’s father Jim is the founder of the Pilot chain of truck stops that has grown from a single gas station to a national empire with annual revenues of $20 billion. McWherter’s father Ned was a dominant figure in Tennessee politics for decades, first as speaker of the state House and later as a two-term governor.
Both candidates insist there’s more to them than their fathers’ legacies.
“It’s one thing to take the stereotypes of, well, this is a rich guy with a famous father,” Haslam said in one of a series of recent interviews with The Associated Press. “It’s a whole ‘nother thing to say, what’s your actual track record?”
Haslam argues that his executive experience both as mayor of Knoxville and in two decades as president of Pilot provide him with the tools needed to guide the state through difficult economic times.
“The state of Tennessee is a very large and complex organization, it has 45,000 employees doing a whole range of things,” he said. “I think it helps to have managed a large and complex organization.”
McWherter, meanwhile, says 20 years running his Jackson beer distributorship have given him a better insight into the needs and challenges faced by small businesses, an area he calls key to Tennessee’s economic recovery.
“I understand what it means to build a budget, and then live within it,” he said.
Budget issues were the main source of contention between the candidates until a recording of Haslam’s appearance before a gun rights group was released on the Internet just as early voting was getting under way. The Republican pledged to the group that he would sign legislation to do away with permit requirements to carry a handgun in public.
McWherter has seized on what he calls Haslam’s “off the cliff” stance on letting anyone be armed in public. Haslam has sought to clarify that his personal preference is to keep the laws governing the state’s 300,000 permit holders as they are now, but that he’d defer to the will of the Legislature if lawmakers chose to change those rules.
Haslam said he’s unconvinced that the Legislature will agree to carry through planned reductions in spending in areas like higher education, mental health and TennCare.
“You have to understand that there’s not consensus, there’s still a lot of battles over those cuts,” he said.
Haslam said he’s been frustrated by McWherter’s refusal to acknowledge the budget pressures facing the state when he was confronted him about them in televised debates.
“He said, ‘Bill I don’t agree with your numbers,'” Haslam said. “It’s not a matter of agreeing or not agreeing, it’s in the budget. Go look it up.”
McWherter refuses to yield on the issue, saying he trusts the budget plans assembled by Bredesen, and his own understanding of the budget plan.
“Frankly I think I’ve forgotten more about the budget than he would know by the end of his first term,” McWherter said.
Haslam in turn has declined to say where he would alter Bredesen’s plan for reducing state spending, except for one.
“I’ve been upfront about saying we won’t have as many state employees when I’m done being governor as we do now,” he said.
Other than reducing the number of state employees, Haslam has said he wants to wait to do a through analysis of the state’s finances because of his experience when he was first elected mayor.
“I learned that of the things I thought I could cut in city government, I was wrong about some,” he said. “And there were a whole lot of cuts that I’ve made since then that I didn’t have any clue about before I got in there.”

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