State Senators Pass Budget; Waiting on House

On June 4, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

By Jacqueline Fellows,
June 4, 2010

Working late into Thursday evening on their last paid day of the 2010 session, state Senators passed a budget for next year. It funds a roughly $29 billion spending plan for the financial year that begins July 1.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle brought the bill to a vote shortly before 11 p.m.

“There are some things in this bill that I wish weren’t there. There are things in there that I am very pleased are there. I think we can all make that list, I think there would be 33 different lists.”

Now the measure goes to the state House, which is expected to take up the budget when it convenes Friday morning.

Both houses must agree on the same figures before the budget goes to the governor to be signed into law.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris touted the budget as an optimistic, but realistic, response to the challenges the state has faced.

“Given the very unusual events, not only the great recession, but the great flood – my heavens, you should be proud of what we’ve done.”

The last speed bump in clearing the budget document was funding of program addressing infant mortality. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he had not received a report on what the program actually does. Advocates bridled, saying they had submitted the report days before. A compromise was worked out to smooth over the dissent, and the infant mortality program was funded, along with the governor’s child care coordination office, which had also been scheduled to be cut.

By late Thursday night, senators were yawning, staring into space. Even the jokes were weak. Kyle introduces Senate Bill 3919:

“That’s Number 3919 in your program, Number One in your heart – the appropriations bill”.

The Senate was on its 90th day, the last day for which it can draw pay. When they meet today it will be on their own time. Kyle pointed out that the budget is a good five weeks behind the legislature’s original schedule.

“The very fact that it’s June the third, and the very fact that it’s 10:18 on June the third, I think its acknowledges as much as anything the difficulty we have had in coming to a conclusion as to the best manner to appropriate the state’s funds in these times. We all hope for better times.”

It could have been worse, Republican Leader Norris said. Last year they were still working on the budget on June 18.

In backing the bill, Norris was making it clear that support for the appropriations bill is now bipartisan, after a full month of partisan fighting. Norris cited a story on the CNN Money website that ranked Tennessee in the top tier of states in facing the strenuous challenges of the upcoming fiscal year.

“The National Governors’ Association has released a report recommending a 3.6 percent average increase in spending in the states. Here in Tennessee I think it’s important to note that this budget reflects a 4.4 percent decrease in total spending.”

Even so, political reality outweighed fiscal caution on some fronts. Senator Jim Tracy tried at the last minute to earmark $10 million for a new science building at Middle Tennessee State University.

Kyle fought off the amendment convincingly, 29-3, while laughingly assuring Tracy he would help him seek the funding next year.

“Senator Black told me I’d be able to work with you next year, Senator Tracy…on this issue….”

The joke is that both Senators – Black and Tracy – are vying for the GOP nomination to run for the 6th U.S. Congressional seat. The loser certainly returns to the state Senate next year.

Tracy got even for the wise-crack. Minutes later he voted against the appropriations bill, along with Senators Mae Beavers and DeWayne Bunch.

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