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Ramsey: GOP won’t cut pre-K funding in budget plan

Ramsey: GOP won’t cut pre-K funding in budget plan

Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010 9:07 pm

Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — A Republican alternative plan to close Tennessee’s budget gap won’t include changes to the state’s pre-kindergarten program, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said.
Ramsey, a Blountville auctioneer who is running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said that while he has been a skeptic of expanding pre-K in the past, there will be no effort to cut the program.
“I’ve never been a proponent of pre-K, I’ll be right upfront about that,” Ramsey told reporters at the Capitol.
“But I’m politically realistic enough to know that we can’t back up all the stuff we’ve already done,” he said. “So what we do is we draw a line in the sand right now and don’t expand it any further.”
Republicans are working to craft an alternative to Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposal to raise $85 million by lifting a sales tax cap on big-ticket items. The overall projected shortfall for the upcoming budget year is about $150 million beyond what Bredesen addressed in his original spending plan.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin suggested earlier this week that changing the funding mechanism for the $83 million-per-year pre-K program could be a way to find extra money.
The pre-K program is currently available to children who qualify for free and reduced priced meals. Since 2005, the Bredesen administration has created 786 new pre-K classrooms. There are now a total of 934 state-funded classrooms in the state, serving more than 18,000 children a year.
Budget constraints forced Bredesen to abandon his plans to expand the pre-K program to make it available to all families that chose to participate. But he has called efforts to trim back the program a “line in the sand, lay in the road kind of issue.”
“I made my strong feelings about the pre-K through 12 program being preserved through all this, and I’m delighted he’s in the same place,” Bredesen said. “That takes a load of my mind.”
House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton, a vocal opponent changing the funding, said he welcomes the Ramsey announcement.
“I’m glad that it’s off the table now,” Williams said. “It was probably being considered, but the votes in the House weren’t there.”
Williams said the House took a significant step toward finding a solution to the budget gap when the Budget Subcommittee advanced Bredesen’s effort to net $21 million in driver’s license fees.
The measure would increase the renewal cycle for a driver’s license or photo identification from five to eight years. The annual fee would increase by $2.
The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Transportation Committee.
Williams said Ramsey has informed him that the Senate GOP plan will be ready around the beginning of next week.
Associated Press Writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.
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Published in The Messenger 4.29.10

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