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Notes from Nashville – 6.10.10

Notes from Nashville – 6.10.10

Posted: Friday, June 11, 2010 10:33 am
By: Mark Maddox, State Representative

Unanimous.  When was the last time that adjective applied to a budget vote in this or any other state?
I cannot remember one in Tennessee since I have been serving you in Nashville.  Still, that is what happened in the House on Friday.
House Democrats and House Republicans, rural and urban representatives, laid aside political differences to put families, farmers and flood survivors first passing a bipartisan budget that creates no new taxes and maintains a healthy reserve for our future.
This budget places the common-sense values of Tennesseans above extreme partisan politics (and there was plenty of that).
This budget provides vital services for our most vulnerable; offers opportunities for job growth to small businesses; gives desperately needed support to farmers; helps thousands of Tennesseans who suffered catastrophic flood damage; and fully funds the K-12 education system.
These are the priorities you said were important to you.
There was plenty of what my 10-year-old calls “drama” (which was really just political wrangling), but in the end House Democrats proposed a compromise plan that House Republicans and all Senators liked after nearly six weeks of intense negotiations. 
Senate Republicans initially had presented a budget plan littered with cuts to many successful state programs like the Teachers’ Career Ladder (lowering the salaries of many of our most veteran teachers), the Agriculture Enhancement Program (stopping improvements on many farms across our area), and the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination (a program working to lower Tennessee’s infant mortality rate).
Tennessee has the 47th worst infant death rate in the country.
The Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination helped establish many successful pilots, including one to combat smoking by pregnant women that has saved $3 million in health care.
Despite success in saving infants across the state, the office was scheduled to close after Senate Republicans voted not to fund it.  The House stood firm on restoring those funds in the budget’s final form. 
The House also led the way in making sure those children grow up in homes where families have fair opportunities at well-paying jobs.
Democrats were able to pump life into a program to help develop small business job growth.
Called the Small Business Jobs Opportunity Fund, this program provides low-cost loans and financial assistance to up-and-coming small businesses looking to create new jobs in Tennessee.
The program is contingent on new revenue being approved by Congress.  Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they will be the way we bring new jobs to our area.  This program will provide a stepping stone for local owners to expand their businesses creating new opportunities for jobs.
Help for farmers through agriculture enhancement grants that provide funding for cost-share programs, equipment assistance, and agriculture growth was enhanced over earlier proposals.
Democrats proposed adding $10 million, contingent on federal funds, to the $6.3 million in state funds provided in earlier proposals.  Farming contributes $44.2 billion to our economy and employs 342,000 Tennesseans. These grants are a great investment in Tennessee.
Tax relief for Tennesseans who suffered flood damage last month was important to some of us. 
Another bill provides nearly $20 million in sales tax relief on all major home and repair purchases, as well as property tax breaks for those whose homes have been destroyed.  T
he break, capped at $2,500, will help West and Middle Tennesseans save thousands as they rebuild their lives. The legislation does not severely impact revenues; since the state would not have had a drastic increase in these purchases had the floods not occurred.
While Senate Republicans insisted that draconian cuts were necessary to save the state, my colleagues and I buckled down and fought for those who needed help the most while staying fiscally responsible. 
This budget leaves a healthy $600 million in reserves which will grow as our economy improves. 
Tennessee values rely on common sense and prudent decisions, not knee-jerk reactions and one-size-fits-all solutions. 
For the first time in my career, the budget was being used by some as a political statement.
I viewed it as a statement of how we help our citizens providing them the services they need and moving Tennessee toward the state we all want.
This budget was a hard one, but it is a responsible budget for all of us.
In the end, everyone in the House agreed.
WCP 6.10.10

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