By Adrian, Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn — The heads of three state agencies on Wednesday began giving Gov. Bill Haslam their proposals for how they would cut 5 percent from their spending plans in next year’s budget.
The Republican governor kicked off annual budget hearings at the University of Memphis, the first time they have been held outside Nashville.
Haslam said it’s not clear whether cuts are going to be necessary, but officials want to be prepared in case they are.
He asked the commissioners of the three departments — Safety, Labor and Workforce Development and Economic and Community Development — to present steps they would take if reductions are needed.
Other departments will be asked to make similar suggestions as he attempts to fill an expected $360 million gap between expenses and revenues in state funding. Haslam said a 5 percent cut would be a reaction to severe decreases in federal funding.
“I don’t see a situation where we would be getting to a 10 percent number at all,” Haslam said.
The Safety Department was the first agency to present its recommendations, days after troopers arrested 55 protesters for violating a new curfew on Capitol grounds.
Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said his department would need to cut $5.9 million, including 82 jobs, if 5 percent cuts become necessary. Gibbons presented a $178.6 million budget to Haslam.
Under the 5 percent scenario, the job cuts would come from the driver services division, Homeland Security liaisons, special operations and aviation units, Capitol security, and troopers who teach the DARE drug prevention programs in schools, Gibbons said.
Gibbons said he does not want to cut the number of troopers who patrol the state’s roads and highways.
“If we’re in a situation to need to make cuts, the last thing we want to cut is the number of troopers on the road,” Gibbons said.
Later, he added: “It’s a tough situation. There are tough decisions to make.”
Karla Davis, commissioner of the Labor and Workforce department, suggested a cut of more than $1 million to the state’s second injury fund under the 5 percent scenario.