(The Center Square) – The Tennessee General Assembly passed a $42.6 billion state budget Thursday for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Lawmakers strayed from Gov. Bill Lee's budget proposal by allocating $250 million to the state’s pension system and $100 million to the state’s rainy day fund. Lee's plan called for $50 million for the rainy day fund.
“We did (the budget) in the Tennessee way,” said Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said. “We look at the money that we have, we look at the obligations that we have and we look at the priorities that we all have.”
Among the cuts lawmakers made from Lee's proposal to pay for the pension deposit was in funding for a sales tax holiday for food from grocery stores and restaurants. Lee budgeted $100 million for a two-week holiday. Lawmakers allocated $50 million for a one-week holiday, which will run from July 31 to Aug. 5.
“We know that industry has been hard hit during the pandemic,” Hazlewood said. “This will, hopefully, allow Tennesseans to get out, have a good meal and help that industry.”
Local government infrastructure grants and broadband internet expansion each was allocated $100 million, half of what Lee proposed. The grants for local governments, which are capped, can be used for anything that is not a recurring expense.
The budget also allocates $39 million for raises for direct care staff employed at agencies contracted by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities – from $10 an hour to $12.50 an hour. There is also $42 million that will be spent on facilities and more for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology.
Lee introduced a $42 billion spending proposal in February, but added $580 million in new spending earlier this month.
Not everyone was happy with the spending decisions, including Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, who requested $2.5 million to help the state’s zoos and aquariums but ultimately withdrew the amendment.
Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, criticized spending $4.2 million that will be divided between the Tim Tebow Foundation, a nonprofit from Florida aimed at giving faith and hope to those in need, and the Human Coalition from Texas, a faith-based anti-abortion group.
Mitchell, like Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, in the Senate, said there are similar nonprofits based in Tennessee that the state should have funded instead.
“They are all struggling to make payroll all the time,” Mitchell said. “Funny to me that we have $4.2 million we can send out of state.
“When the nonprofits in your community ask, tell them you sent their money to Texas and you sent their money to Tim Tebow in Florida,” Mitchell said.
Lee seemingly defended the decision in his statement on the budget.
“I’m proud that this budget delivers on some of our top promises to Tennesseans and invests in external organizations meeting the needs of our local communities,” Lee said. “Thank you to the General Assembly for their steadfast commitment to our shared goals and establishing Tennessee as a fiscal leader across the nation.”