By Andy Sher, TimesFreePress.com
June 4, 2010

NASHVILLE — House leaders hope to take up the state’s 2010-2011 budget today after senators approved the annual spending plan late Thursday night on a 30-3 vote.

The budget includes a tax break for flood victims in Middle and West Tennessee but,under a comprehensive agreement between the House and Senate, it deleted a proposed $16.1 million fish hatchery in House Speaker Kent Williams’ district.

The plan also restores about $4.5 million in recurring funding for the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination, which provides grants to combat infant mortality. Republicans senators sought to eliminate the program but later backed off as Democrats and Rep. Williams, an independent, lambasted them over it.

The budget also provides for laying off at least 853 state workers and cuts 500 more vacant positions as the state continues to recover from the recession.

But for those who remain — and if revenues come in higher than originally projected — the budget will provide a one-time bump in longevity pay to help state worker, teachers and higher education employees with higher health care costs. Workers will get an additional $50 per year of service except for employees of three years or less who will get $150.

“We’re proud of the job Tennessee has done in weathering the Great Recession and the economic downturn,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, told colleagues prior to the vote, later adding that “over the past three years, if memory serves, we have aided in reducing the state budget by over $1.5 billion.”

But he said in comparison to other states, Tennessee government’s “house” is in “good order.”

Senate proceedings Thursday night got tangled up for some two hours in a dispute over a tax-increment financing plan involving Jackson, Tenn. It was dropped.

Bredesen administration budget director Bill Bradley estimated the spending plan is about $29.9 billion. It dips into reserves but maintains their levels at $429.2 million or, if a “core services reserve” is included, $615.4 million.

Gov. Phil Bredesen told The Associated Press Thursday night he is generally pleased with the plan.

‘‘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.

Among the three voting no was Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland.

House Finance Committee Chairman Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said he anticipated bringing the bill up in the House sometime today.

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