TN lawmakers back down from Radnor, Meharry cuts

On April 28, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

Day of high-stakes haggling ends with $31B budget deal
April 28, 2012

Negotiators for the Senate and House of Representatives backed off threats to slash funding for Meharry Medical College, Radnor Lake and more than a dozen other projects after a day of brinksmanship over the $31 billion state budget.

A conference committee appointed to resolve a dispute between the Senate and House over pet projects recommended resetting the budget to its form before the two chambers, both controlled by Republicans, began warring. The final report listed a cut to one Middle Tennessee program — $75,000 that was to go to the Education Equal Opportunity Group in Nashville.

Earlier on Friday, lawmakers were weighing far more draconian cuts when the Senate upped the stakes in a battle over spending in the 2012-13 state budget.

The Senate proposed more than $20 million in cuts, mainly to projects in Middle and West Tennessee, an apparent dig at House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, referred to the cuts as a “greeting card” meant to grab the attention of House lawmakers. The conference committee quickly agreed to forgo the cuts without a fight.

The cuts, however, would have had a major impact on Nashville. They would have taken $1 million from a fund to acquire land at Radnor Lake State Natural Area, $50,000 from the Nashville Folk Festival and $481,000 from the Metro Sports Authority for debt service. The Senate also called for reducing state funding to Meharry by an amount equal to cuts in the Metro budget.

In West Tennessee, the Senate proposed reducing funding to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis by $300,000; a University of Memphis satellite campus at Lambeth by $4 million; and UT-Martin campuses in Ripley and Parsons by a combined $240,000. All of those funds were restored in the agreement.

The threat came after the House refused to go along with about $1.8 million in spending that the Senate had planned to add to the budget.

House Democrats — and many House Republicans — said the spending violated an agreement that the budget would bank surplus revenues rather than use it on pet projects.

The House responded to the threat by delaying a vote on a plan to acquire land on Doe Mountain in East Tennessee to build an ATV park. The project’s leading supporter has been Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

“That’s just part of the game you play at the end of session,” Ramsey said of the maneuver.

Republican leaders have set a goal of passing a budget and adjourning for the year by the end of April, and the conference committee agreement puts them on track to meet that goal.

The House will reconvene Sunday night for a procedural reading of a constitutional amendment that would let veterans groups conduct charitable gaming. Lawmakers plan to vote on that amendment Monday. If it passes, it would then have to pass both chambers of the legislature by a two-thirds majority in the next two-year legislative session before going on the ballot in 2014.

Both chambers plan to vote on the final budget agreement Monday morning, allowing them to adjourn.

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