Here are a few points to consider now that it appears our Driver Testing Center will in fact be towed to that giant junkyard in the sky.
The blame squarely falls on our Tennessee lawmakers, who are proud to boast the state has never had more money, while at the same time cutting a vital service.
The state is scheduled to contribute $132 million to its rainy day fund this fiscal year, bringing the fund to a record $800 million. It's disheartening to think that out of all those millions, state lawmakers couldn't find $50,000 to keep our Driver Testing Center open.
At the local level, city officials had a chance to save our Driver Testing Center for two more years, but decided against it. I can see both sides of this.
On one side, the city had a chance to keep a crucial service center here in town for a reasonable price of $2,000 a month. That amounts to about $1 for each resident, according to McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley's math.
Much like the state, McMinnville city government is flush with cash. The city could very well end this fiscal year with more than $6 million in its fund balance, a very handsome amount. And just like we're left wondering what the state will do with its $800 million rainy day fund, we're left wondering how many Blue Building studies the city can do for $6 million.
It would have been nice to keep our Driver Testing Center for two more years, and at a certainly affordable rate of $2,000 a month.
That being said, the underlying point is it's not the city's responsibility to fund a state service in the first place. When the city and county joined together to reopen our Driver Testing Center in October, it was viewed only as a one-year stopgap measure until state funding was fully restored.
As we can see, state funding was not restored.
I think McMinnville Alderman Steve Harvey hit the bull's-eye when he said, “I feel like that two years from now this board, and whoever is sitting on it, will be sitting here voting on this exact same thing."
In my view, Harvey is right in his suggestion state funding was never going to be restored. The agreement between the city and county to keep the Driver Testing Center would have gone on forever.
With that being the case, city officials made the decision to bite the proverbial bullet and end the deal sooner rather than later.
In the end, our local officials did a tremendous amount of work to get the Driver Testing Center reopened with the hope the state would fulfill its obligation and fully fund it.
State officials are the ones who let us down. We have $800 million just sitting in our state rainy day fund to spend on whatever need arises, as long as that need is not a Driver Testing Center in McMinnville. We are justified in being a little upset about this.
Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.