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House budget to tap reserves an additional $147 million

House budget to tap reserves an additional $147 million

Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 9:04 pm
By: AP, staff reports

From AP, staff reports
NASHVILLE — House budget writers propose tapping the state’s reserves by an additional $147 million, a move that would ensure state employees get a one-time bonus and keep their 401(k) match program, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Details of the proposal were revealed as lawmakers try to reach consensus on a budget plan as early as this week.
The House version is similar to Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s original plan and an alternative proposal from Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, but differs from a Senate Republican proposal, which would eliminate the bonus for state employees and phase out their match program.
Under the House plan, state employees would get a one-time $500 bonus.
“The beauty of this one is that the lowest paid state employees and the highest paid state employee get a $500 bonus,” said Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
The House plan would also create a $20 million relief program for Tennessee flood victims and restore agricultural enhancement grants and the state employee Career Ladder program that would be eliminated under the Senate plan.
The agricultural enhancement grants are very important to northwest Tennessee, according to state Rep. Judy Barker of Union City.
“Agriculture is extremely important to my district and, in fact, is our No. 1 business in Tennessee,” she said, noting ag enhancement has been cut three times in three years since its creation in 2005. “Ag enhancement was created to support the agricultural community and to stimulate economic activity in the rural agricultural areas of this state.
“The cost-share dollars encourage farmers to make purchases now that otherwise they might postpone in anticipation of an improved economy. These programs are helping keep food production in Tennessee by advancing cattle genetics, modernizing livestock facilities making it safer for animals and farmers; building hay, grain and feed storage; providing producer diversification assistance; and building large animal handling facilities for veterinary services.”
All the budget proposals seek to help flood victims and try to keep the state’s cash reserves strong. The House plan would leave the state with about a $350 million balance, officials said.
Some lawmakers have chafed at an $18 million plan to build a cold-water fish hatchery in Carter County, which is home to House Speaker Kent Williams, an Elizabethton independent.
Naifeh said plans for the hatchery have been in the works since 2002. Williams wasn’t elected until 2006.
“This isn’t something that just came up, it isn’t something that Speaker Williams is trying to make a deal on,” Naifeh said. “The deal was made years ago.”
The Senate Finance Committee was to discuss its plan and the governor’s later today.
The final budget plan is expected to be conservative because of the sour economy.
“This is without a doubt the most ultra-conservative budget that I’ve ever had the opportunity to discuss or vote on,” Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said of the House plan.
Published in The Messenger 5.26.10

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