State legislature approves budget

Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 2:47am

After a late night of bargaining and haggling, the Tennessee General Assembly has passed a state budget. That is not to say things didn't get testy at times.

The state House passed the budget around 11 p.m. Wednesday by a vote of 85 for and 12 against. Shortly after the House took action, the state Senate reconvened and passed the budget by a vote of 32 for and 1 against. The only Senate vote against the budget was state Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet.

Voting on the budget was expected to occur much earlier in the day, but members of the Senate and House took all day and most of the night to iron out their differences.

The agreement struck between the two bodies on the state’s $29.6 billion spending plan for 2009-2010 cuts recurring state expenditures but uses bonds to meet higher education construction commitments. This budget represents a 10.2 percent reduction in state spending.

A key concern for Republicans was what they called "impounding" $55 million in state money. They inserted language into the budget that was agreed upon by the administration that would require the governor to make up to $55 million in additional cuts to state programs if revenue projections are not met.

Gov. Phil Bredesen comes out of the budget battle with some of his key initiatives put on the chopping block by Senate Republicans. They included $22 million in recurring funds for pre-indergarten programs. The original Senate plan called for shifting the money to “non-recurring,” which Bredesen said was a “precursor” to eliminating pre-K funding in 2010-11.

“This was a difficult budget to craft and navigate through, but I am pleased the General Assembly has passed a budget that largely reflects the plan I outlined in March," Bredesen said Thursday morning. "Just like families across the state, government has to make difficult decisions and sacrifices during these times. This budget gives us the tools we need to continue managing through this economic downturn, and I appreciate the efforts of the members of the General Assembly and its leaders in getting this budget passed.”

Also included in the budget are bonds for construction of higher education projects. That includes funding for building on the Cherokee campus of UT Knoxville, where Bredesen proposes to establish headquarters for a new Solar Energy Research Institute - a significant piece of his "solar initiative."

Another major compromise concerns a $350 million bond issue for bridge construction and replacement. The compromise reached calls for dividing the bond issue so that one-fourth the amount is available to be issued in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Another fourth would be available in each of the following three years.

Members of the state Senate felt it wasn't a good idea to count on federal funds in future years to pay debt service on the bonds. The plan submitted by Bredesen assumes federal highway construction funding will be available in future years. Under the compromise, the issuing of bonds can be terminated if federal funds are not available.

In other legislative action, the Tennessee Ethics Commission is no more. An effort to keep the commission created in the wake of the "Tennessee Waltz" public corruption scandal died on the floor of the House. While the commission will cease to exist, the function it had overseeing the registration and reporting duties of those who lobbied the state are now under the watch of the newly created "Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance."

With passage of the budget, the state legislature will adjourn for the year by the end of this week.


2 Comments on this post:

By: Kosh III on 6/18/09 at 7:20

With no Ethics commission they can go back to taking "donations" without any pesky oversight. Ramsay and Mumpower must be pleasedwith their efforts to prove that this is the best Legislature money can buy.

By: sickofstupidity on 6/18/09 at 8:33

I am glad this circus is leaving town...back to their lofty jobs as resturant owners, auctioneers, farmers, and town idiots. What a bunch of clowns. Tennessee is doomed!