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Notes from Nashville – 5.20.10

Notes from Nashville – 5.20.10

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2010 11:36 am
By: Mark Maddox, State Representative

Then there were three. Budget proposals, that is. Last Monday, I was called to Nashville early to be a part of the House Leadership Team beginning the final work on the budget with some Senators and the Governor’s Office.
Two proposals were presented formally and House Democrats discussed a third that has been developing this session, all of which were studied during Finance Committee meetings on Tuesday.
The Governor’s Office presented a proposal that relies on closing some tax loopholes (Removing exemptions on cable television and clearing up an investment tax problem are two examples) and a number of fee increases (including $2 on our driver’s license that has not increased since 1984) to pump up the lagging revenue stream.
Then, this proposal makes some “business sensible” cuts and uses around $99 million of our Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account, to pay for some necessary expenses in the areas of education, mental health, and developmental disability as well as helping state employees and farmers.
At the end of next year, under this proposal, the state’s reserves would be around $500 million.
Senate Republicans made a proposal that makes the loophole adjustment on investment taxes, and then cuts over $140 million to teachers, farmers, state employees, services to children and public safety.
This proposal cuts the Career Ladder program by $34 million lowering the salary of over 30,000 teachers. Over $100 million in non-recurring funds that were to be used to provide state employees with a one-time recession adjustment would be eliminated.
The Agriculture Enhancement Program which makes improvements to Tennessee’s number one industry in the areas of technology development, equipment improvements and building construction would be slashed by over $6 million.
Under their proposal, the Republicans would transition from recurring to non-recurring over $1 million in grants to implement meth prevention programs and internet crime prevention.
These programs help local governments combat the growing problems of meth addiction and Internet child pornography in rural communities.
By paying for these programs with non-recurring funds, the programs could be terminated as early as next year.
A number of other cuts to services for children, those with mental illness and developmental disabilities would raise the rainy day fund to just under $545 million at the end of the next fiscal year.
The third proposal makes the “business sensible” cuts made by the Governor’s proposal, closes the investment loophole like the Senate Republicans’ proposal, but it uses more of the rainy day fund to pay the expenses of state government for this year.
This proposal leaves the Career Ladder Program, the Ag Enhancement Program, and the recession adjustment in place while making surgical cuts to balance the budget.
Our rainy day fund would be about $320 million at the end of the next fiscal year.
Last year, we set out on a four-year plan to maintain balanced budgets while letting our economy recover and now some want to change that plan to score political points.
Tennessee has experienced unprecedented negative revenue for the last 22 months.
Revenues showed growth last month for the first time in almost two years. Good management over the last seven years grew our rainy day fund to over $700 million.
Things are getting better, but folks in Weakley and Carroll Counties are still hurting.
Tennessee families deserve the best when it comes to their safety and local law enforcement agencies need tools to fight the ugly problems of drug abuse and Internet child pornography.
Now is not the time to treat teachers, farmers, state employees, children and those most vulnerable among us like pawns in a political game.
I will work in a bipartisan fashion with those who are more interested in the future of Tennessee than in political gain to pass a budget that is good for all Tennesseans using some cash that we had set aside to use on a rainy day and making sensible cuts, and it will be balanced.
If you have suggestions, please let me know. My number in Nashville is toll-free: 1-800-449-8366, ext. 17847.
My email is rep.mark.maddox@capitol.tn.gov and my regular mail address is 17 Legislative Plaza; Nashville, TN 37243.
WCP 5.20.10

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