GOP rejects Tennessee budget proposal

On April 25, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

House committee tables Democrats’ spending plan

By Richard Locker, 
April 25, 2012

NASHVILLE — Republicans in the legislature on Tuesday night voted down a Democratic budget proposal that would double the cut in sales taxes on food, reduce college tuition increases this fall and restore other health and education spending the governor has proposed to cut.

The House Finance Subcommittee tabled the $212 million plan that House Democrats proposed as an amendment to the $31 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Democratic plan was based on an estimated $200 million upturn in state tax revenue beyond what the governor’s budget plan is based upon. Most of it replaces spending that has been cut over the past four years of recession.

One element of the Democrats’ plan would have cut the 5.5 percent state sales tax on grocery food to 5 percent starting July 1, rather than to 5.25 percent sought by the governor and expected to win final legislative approval today.

Another would eliminate the 1.9 percent funding cut, or $16 million, to public higher education that the governor’s budget proposes. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said that would cut in half the tuition increases of 6 to 8 percent that will occur this fall.

“This is not pie in the sky. This is not wild spending. Every one of these provisions, we’ve done before,” Fitzhugh told the subcommittee. “I would challenge you: If there’s something unreasonable here, take it out.”

But Sen. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said it’s “prudent” not to spend the increased revenue and instead put it into the bank while the state determines what financial impact, if any, the federal health reform act has on the state budget. “I think it would be irresponsible to spend all the money now and come next year and possibly face a $200 million or $250 million impact from the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

It also appears that an effort to provide $28.4 million to the Shelby County public defender’s office and $16.8 million to Davidson County’s is not likely to pass as part of the budget. The Shelby and Davidson County public defenders told a legislative committee last week they have discovered that an error in interpreting a 1992 statute has shorted their two offices a total of $45.2 million over the past 20 years.

Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, and Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, are looking for a way to at least fix the error going forward, but the Haslam administration wants to delay it until next year while its budget officials research whether there is an error.

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