House quickly gets down to business

House quickly gets down to business

It was all business for the state House of Representatives as the second session of the 105th General Assembly got under way on Tuesday. The House Finance, Ways & Means Committee immediately went to work, receiving an update from Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz and Treasurer Dale Sims on the potential shortfall in this year’s state revenues.
“Our first priority as state legislators is to be good stewards of the people’s money,” said Rep. Phillip Pinion (D-Union City).
Goetz informed House members that projected revenues are slated to be short by approximately $150 million. Goetz attributed the shortfall, in large part, to Franchise & Excise Taxes that were refunded due to “mortgage backed securities” directly connected to the subprime mortgage crisis. Sims added that the “corporate profit outlook is not what it was a year ago.” More specific numbers from the fourth quarter of 2007, including revenues generated during the holiday season, are expected to be released later this month.
Legislators will now have to take a hard look at the upcoming fiscal budget, as well as the revised expectations of revenues, and decide what actions will need to be taken in order to produce a balanced budget.
“Unlike Congress, we are required to pass a balanced budget each year and we have consistently passed a balanced budget,” said Pinion. “Last year was an unusually good year in terms of revenues, and thankfully we put $250 million in our Rainy Day Fund, raising it to the highest total in Tennessee’s history. I don’t believe we’ll need to tap into our fund this year, but it should give Tennesseans peace of mind knowing we’re prepared for hard times.”
“Education is the key to a child’s success in life,” said Pinion. “Last year we passed important legislation that increased education funding for K-12 schools across this state. With over $347 million in new funding, we are taking strong steps to help improve our state’s education system.”
In addition to BEP funding, House Democrats will be looking for ways to expand opportunities for more Tennesseans to achieve the dream of a college degree. Currently the HOPE Scholarship Lottery Fund has a surplus of over $400 million.
“With a $400 million surplus in lottery funds, we must take a look at how those dollars can give more students the chance to succeed in college. Non-traditional students, returning veterans and many more can benefit from tuition assistance, and it’s our job to make that happen,” said Pinion.
In addition to the budget and education, the House Democratic Caucus is expected to meet later this month and finalize its agenda for the year, Pinion said.
Published in The Messenger 1.11.08

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