published Monday, April 30th, 2012

Tennessee Senate, House pass budget

NASHVILLE — The House and Senate gave final approval Monday night to a compromise on the state’s $31billion budget, sending the annual spending plan on to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

House Republican majority lawmakers batted down four alternative Democratic proposals. The plan, which includes some $50 million in tax cuts, passed the chamber on a 64-28 vote.

Senators largely dispensed with debate, approving the majority Republican conference committee report on a 31-2 vote. Other provisions include a 2.5 percent increase for state employees and $560 million in building construction or improvements, many of them in higher education.

Democrats sought to restore regional projects and add additional funding for higher education to cut likely tuition hikes by half. They also wanted to accelerate Haslam’s cuts to the sales tax on groceries.

One proposal included a last-ditch effort to keep Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County from Haslam’s budget ax. It failed as well.

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the improvements and restorations can easily be funded by higher tax collections that Republicans have refused to acknowledge.

“This is cash in the bank that we simply need to recognize, ladies and gentlemen,” Fitzhugh said.

Another effort sought to eliminate a $600,000 grant for the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Democrats charged that $500,000 of that would go toward a new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va., located literally across State Street from Bristol, Tenn.

Several House Republicans sought to question the veracity of a Times Free Press article published last week in which Ramsey stated the money was going for that purpose.

According to a digital recording, Ramsey told reporters last Thursday the planned museum “is on the Virginia side — barely. Literally on State Street. It’s on State Street in Bristol. We’ll put our money through the Arts Commission here as a grant to the city of Bristol and then they’ll do their part.”

State Street divides Bristol, Tenn. and Bristol, Va.

The money would be given by the city of Bristol, Tenn., to the Tennessee-chartered Home of Country Music Alliance. Several House Republicans said the tourism revenues would benefit Tennessee with visitors simply walking across the street into Tennessee to visit restaurants and shops.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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