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$60Million Oops

$60Million Oops

After being asked my opinion and thoughts on this most costly mistake in our state government, I decided to share with the voters, the people who are being impacted by what’s happened.

The question asked for my thoughts on the  $60 million in federal funding jeopardized by a new state underage DUI law. Would I ask the governor or push the Legislature to hold a special session? Also, what is my take on the fact that Democrats are criticizing Republicans for pushing the Legislature to get out so quickly each year that the Fiscal Review staff don’t have enough time to vet bills.

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/politics/tennessee-democrats-say-harwell-policies-responsible-for-highway-fund-issue-3b61819a-47d4-5e09-e053–391934861.html

Its important to identify that we have two problems here.

The first and most pressing problem is resolving the issue of the federal funding at risk. By using all means available, whether via Gov Haslam or recalling the legislature, this error has to be corrected immediately (before the Oct 1 deadline). There is no option not to correct this oversight with $60M in federal funding at risk. Additionally, this is also not a time to assign blame or fingerpoint; that will come in addressing Problem #2.

The second, and perhaps more troubling problem is how this happened in the first place. There seem to be multiple causes for the practice that led to the error: overworked staff, compressed session length, high turnover, increased complexity of work content. While I appreciate that the current legislature implemented an increase in staff, that effort failed, as evidenced by this massive error in oversight.

The legislature now has to revisit the report, reassess the contributing factors, and reevaluate the solution. And of course both the session to correct the immediate problem (bringing TN DUI law into compliance with federal requirements), and the legislatures efforts to define and correct the oversight issue end up costing the taxpayers more than it would have cost if this issue had been addressed properly from the beginning.

Which leads me to conclude that there is a deeper issue in all of this. In our current legislatures leadership philosophy, it seems more important to save money than to spend money wisely. This is clear example and failure of that mindset. It does us no good to compress the session in an effort to save money if it costs us more to go back and fix mistakes, just as it does us no good to have a state budget surplus and rank 47th in per-student education funding.