By Tom Humphrey,
June 4, 2010

NASHVILLE – The House today joined the Senate in approving a $29 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, ending weeks of argument over spending and cutting.

The 94-0 vote set the stage for adjourning the 106th General Assembly on Saturday. The Senate had approved the budget bill 30-3 late Thursday night.

The budget bill (SB3919) now goes to Gov. Phil Bredesen, who expressed his general approval of the measure.

The compromise budget generally follows an agreement negotiated by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Kent Williams earlier this week. There are relatively few changes from what Bredesen recommended, but the difference that did develop had created some contentious wrangling.

The bill, as approved, includes full funding for the Governor’s Office of Child Care Coordination, which includes infant mortality prevention programs, and agriculture grants. Senators had earlier proposed to cut those programs.

At the same time, it eliminates a proposed $16.1 million fish hatchery that Williams and House allies pushed but senators opposed.

Other provisions of the budget compromise:

-State employees, teachers and higher education employees will get a salary bonus payment, provided that state revenues come in better than officially projected – which Fitzhugh said is becoming increasingly likely.

The bonus will be $50 per year of service as a state employee with a $150 minimum. Thus, an employee or teacher with one to three years service will get a $150 bonus. Those with more service will get $50 per year. For example, a person with 10 years experience would get $500.

-$120 million is set aside – on a contingency basis, to be spent if federal funds materialize – for improvements at community colleges and technology centers. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission would develop a list of priorities for the spending, with no more than 30 percent going to technology centers and the rest to community colleges.

-Money for conservation land purchases, stripped from an earlier Senate version of the budget, is restored for two years. Four different funds are involved, involving money for such things as wetlands preservation and purchases of land for state and local parks.

Both Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle and Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris made speeches in support of the overall budget bill, which covers the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The Senate vote was 30-3 and was taken shortly before 11 p.m. (Central time). The no votes came from Republican Sens. Mae Beavers of Mount Juliet, Dewayne Bunch of Cleveland and Jim Tracy of Shelbyville.

Bredesen told The Associated Press before a speech to the Complete College America Conference at Nashville’s Loveless Cafe that there are “going to be things I don’t care for … but in the end, you take what you can get.”

The governor said the areas he found most serious, like children’s services and the management structure for Tennessee’s “Race to the Top” program, are funded in the latest versions of the budget.

It also contains a relief program for Tennessee flood victims.

“If you have 99.9 percent of the budget right and 0.1 percent is needed to bring the whole thing together, I can live with that stuff,” he said.

Bredesen also said that about $600 million that would be maintained in the reserves are adequate.

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