Senate Takes Five (Days)

On May 13, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

By Joe White, WPLN.org
May 13, 2010

Tennessee’s state budget won’t be enacted any earlier than the last week in May. The state Senate decided today to take next week off.

Governor Phil Bredesen’s budget contained several taxes, including a cable tax and an increased fee for driver’s licenses, that drew heat from Republicans.

The Republican counter-proposal cuts out a pay bonus for employees and otherwise funds a lot more programs from reserves – the state’s “rainy day fund.”

Neither party can count enough votes to pass either budget, yet.

The Senate decision to take a break from floor sessions gives the two sides an additional week to work out the kinks.

Senate Republican leader Mark Norris says one committee will discuss the budget early next week, but otherwise senators will sit back and see what the House wants to do.

“But the objective is for us to get the budget through Finance [Committee] so that the House can see where we are prepared to be, on the floor, but not have floor sessions here, until Monday, May 24th.”

Senate leaders would rather see the House take the first step on the budget because senators only have three days left to collect pay. After that, any work they do will be uncompensated. The House has five paid days left.

In past years, when the legislature ran out of paid days, they worked for free until they passed a budget-but they complained about it.

Web Extra:

As Senator Norris describes the Senate schedule for the week of May 17-21, he touches on a lot of end-of-the-year issues. Here’s a running translation:

“The consensus seems to be …. that we not have a floor session in the Senate next week but that we do have Finance Committee meetings at least Monday and Tuesday…”

Under this scenario, the 11 members of the Senate Finance Committee would massage the market basket of bills that makes up the budget.

“… with an objective of passing technical corrections, and the appropriations bill, by the conclusion of our work Tuesday…”

The “technical corrections” bill is the so-called “loophole closer,” meant to tighten up the tax law and make it fair to all taxpayers. But in recent years it has been used to enact new taxes. The governor’s proposal to charge more sales tax on big-ticket items would be in the technical corrections bill – if it survives, which has been deemed unlikely, even by Democrats.

The appropriations bill is the spending half of the state’s checking account – each check going out have to be authorized by a line in the appropriations bill.

“…And this would include all the other finance bills too, the bond bill, cap bill, etc., omnibus…”

The bond bill authorizes the money that the government would borrow, usually for buildings and other capital improvements. By de-authorizing bonds which have been okayed but never issued, one version of the budget would free up about $5 million for operations. The “cap bill” is an authorization the members pass to say, “we understand we’re spending more than we meant to spend.”
The omnibus bill (often mispronounced ‘Ominous,” on purpose) tidies up other laws to allow the current budget to shift funds around. For instance, it would be used to re-direct the funds that are legally supposed to go for conservation purposes, to the general fund.

…”And let the House have one or two … floor sessions next week, I believe they have… or will have five [days remaining], and after today, we will have three days remaining.”

This is tactical – the house with the most days remaining has an advantage. As of today, the House could sit in hotels for two extra days before playing their hand, while senators fidget and crash at friends’ houses.

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