From TennCare To School Fare: East Tennessee Weighs Priorities

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Nashville (WVLT) - It's going to be chilly outside, but Governor Bredesen is expecting a warm reception as he's sworn in to his second term as Governor of Tennessee.

After all, he carried all 95 counties on Election Day in November.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd continues our coverage of the inauguration, live from Nashville.

Friday night, the governor will be out on the plaza rehearsing his speech, it's expected to run about 20 minutes.

What's in it, he's not saying, but the challenges of the second term are expected to be no easier than the first, and East Tennessee power brokers have plenty of ideas of what those challenges should be.

"Let's leave behind the predictable and stale debate between liberals and conservative." No sooner could Phil Bredesen put the chill of his first inaugural behind than he had to waltz through the money tar pit that was TennCare.

Finding a fix took 3 years, Cost thousand of Tennesseans their drug and doctor coverage.

But he still managed what no other sitting governor has in more than a century. carrying all 95 counties this past election.

So, for the encore?

"The focus ought to be on funding for education," says Knoxville Mayor Mike Ragsdale. "In Knox County, our children receive $800 less than the state average per child."

"We receive $300 less than Williamson County, which is one of the top 15 richest counties in America! Something is wrong with that funding formula," Ragsdale says.

Governor Bredesen has said he favors updating the school money formula, but hasn't said how.

He likely will push for more money for lower-income school districts. And maybe a school building and remodeling plan, using some of the $300 million lottery surplus.

Course, where there's smoke…

"Look at a graduated cigarette pack price. For folks under 25, charge an exorbitant amount for cigarettes, versus folks addicted to that tobacco for a number of years," suggests Knox County GOP Chairman Brian Hornback.

At 20 cents a pack, Tennessee's cigarette tax is one of the country's lowest, but Bredesen may not back raising it a dollar. He would consider spending any new money on schools and health care.

Tennessee hasn't raised its gas tax in 18 years. The Governor sees that as one way to stop the budget for road building and repairs from falling $100 million short.

"The cost of gasoline really is crippling some families across East Tennessee right now, so to try to add to that burden, I don't think, makes very good sense," Ragsdale says.

But a change in the head count, could find him tap dancing on some issues.

"With Republican control of the Senate, there's gonna be some checks and balances," says Hornback.


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