(The Center Square) – Tennessee Senate and House committees passed state budget proposals Wednesday, and the full chambers will hear and discuss the spending plans Thursday.
Both plans add $250 million to the state’s pension fund while cutting $100 million from Gov. Bill Lee's $200 million proposal for local government grants and $100 million from his $200 million broadband expansion proposal to cover the funds allotted to the state pension.
The proposals also reduced Lee's grocery and restaurant sales tax holiday spending in half, from $100 million to $50 million.
“The return on investment is simply less than expected,” Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, said during the House’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee hearing. “… We are going to make good on our promises.”
Lamberth compared the status of Tennessee’s pension system to other states, saying Tennessee has a lot to be proud of with its pension fund and the proposed $250 million allocation would ensure the fund remains in good condition.
“This budget has no debt,” Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said.
The broadband proposal will include another $100 million in next year’s budget. Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, said he hopes the state will ensure it is spending money wisely as satellite technology improves and reduces the need to lay fiber lines in the ground.
The only restriction on the local government infrastructure grants, which are capped, is that Tennessee cities and counties must spend the funds each is awarded on nonrecurring expenses. Those funds are proposed to be available once the budget becomes law.
A total of $25 million in an office improvement plan was shifted to be taken out of reserves instead of the new budget.
The appropriations also include two deposits back into the state’s general fund from money previously budgeted but unused, including $30 million from the state’s voluntary buyout program and $15 million from the Health and Safety Emergency Contingency Fund.
“We stand in a very good place as a state,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. “… We are moving toward economic recovery, and we are going to proceed cautiously, but I think it’s warranted that we be optimistic toward the future. Revenues do appear to be coming back.”