Now more than ever, the Tennessee State Legislature face great challenges in addressing the wounded economy, budget shortfalls, growing needs of working families, and the new costs of heightened security and the threat of war. As President of WAND, the parent organization of the national multi-partisan network The Women Legislators Lobby, we are very concerned about the cuts in the Federal Budget to provide money for a war in Iraq and the wrong message that is being sent to our children. WiLL helps provide the big picture on federal policies and programs affecting our state, and offers creative solutions and fresh ideas necessary for effective leadership.
We face one of the worst fiscal crises in years. States have at least a collective $17.5 billion budget gap to fill before fiscal year 2003 ends, and this is after the vast majority of states have imposed significant cuts to balance their budgets in addition to imposing taxes to increase revenue. Tennessee is no exception, with an $400 million budget gap this past fiscal year and a 1cent increase in sales tax for this year. More hard times lay ahead as we debate or finalize additional budget cuts for the next fiscal year. At the same time, the unemployment rate in Tennessee continues to grow with an increase from 4.2% to 5.6% over the past year.
In Tennessee, the federal government contributes 33% to our state budget. This money pays for schools, public assistance, roads, health care and other programs important to Tennessee residents. While Tennessee struggle through our fiscal crises and budget cuts, the federal governments spending cuts threaten to make it even more difficult for Tennessee to meet its peoples needs. Under a White House budget plan that Congress will take up in the next month, spending for domestic programs other than homeland security would be held at $316 billion in the current fiscal year, the same as last year. Overall the total amount in federal formula grant programs to states would be cut by $2.4 billion (accounting for inflation), resulting in serious losses to local communities. It is expected that this frugal approach will continue in the FY2004 budget that Mr. Bush will propose next month.
Under The propose federal budget for FY 2003 Tennessee will lose:
Highway Planning and Construction-------- $177,927,780
Airport Improvement Program $ 760,600
Workforce Investment Act $ 6,423,140
Low-Income Energy Assistance Program $ 4,617,040
Elementary & Secondary Education $ 19,689.820
Clean Water Revolving Fund $ 22,100,700
Drinking water Revolving Fund $ 687,180
Additionally, many programs important to families such as the child Care and Development Block Grants have been level-funded. In other words, once inflation is taken into account, those programs will have less money and provide fewer services.
As a member of the Tennessee General Assembly, I understand that federal grants and payments to public schools, local law enforcement agencies, universities, research laboratories, our state highway department are all crucial to the state budget, and that this virtual freeze on domestic spending hurts our communities.
During the past year, Congress and the White House neglected welfare re-authorization, an extension of unemployment benefits, and an extension for the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, which is incorporated into TennCare in Tennessee. The total increase cost in military spending to the state of Tennessee will be $612 million. Just with nuclear weapons alone, costing $16.5 billion and Tennessees burden of this cost is $219 million. This amount would buy:
Head Start for 32,047 Tennessee Children
Health Care coverage for 137,509 Tennessee youth
Affordable housing units for 3,123 Tennessee families
Teachers for 5,101 Tennessee elementary classrooms
In addition to the $80 to $100 billion cost for the war on Iraq, experts have weighed in on the reconstruction efforts during the recent hearings on Iraq. According to Samuel Berger, Senior Policy Advisor during the Clinton Administration, the re-building of Iraqi economy would range from $50-$150 billion. Scott R. Fell, retired colonel and expert on post-conflict reconstruction, argued that significant material and personnel resources would be required for reconstruction. He stated, that security, humanitarian and emergency aid, transitional administration, civil service and other components or reconstruction would cost from $15 to $25 billion over the next decade. The U. S. had much international support during the Gulf War. Allies picked up almost 90% of its cost. However, this war does not have international support. Many allies have made it clear that they are not in favor of a preemptive strike. Germany and Saudi Arabia, among the largest cash and in-kind contributors of the Gulf War, have indicated their complete opposition to in invasion. The people in Tennessee and across this nation should expect to pay for most of the war as well as reconstruction. The federal budget decisions directly impact our constituents daily lives and that when cuts are made our state programs for women and children disproportionately bear the budget ax. We have been taught down through the years to defend ourselves should some one strike us. Is a preemptive strike against Iraq setting the right kind of example for our children?