published Friday, May 28th, 2010

State budget status: Talking stops, fighting starts

NASHVILLE -- Republican and Democratic leaders quit negotiating with each other over the state's $28 billion spending plan on Thursday and began instead to hurl accusations.

Republicans contend the No. 1 remaining sticking point on a budget agreement is their opposition to a proposed $16.1 billion fish hatchery planned in the home district of House Speaker Kent Williams.

Rep. Williams, the one-time Republican, was cast out of the GOP after he and Democrats united last year to elect him speaker.

"We really are down now to quibbling over a fish hatchery," said Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who called it a "symbol" of waste. "It doesn't have anything to do with who wants this legislation. I think our caucus has locked down on not wanting to fund what is purely pork barrel spending in a budget like this."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner dismissed GOP charges and said the attack on the fish hatchery and talk about "pork" simply masks a thirst for revenge against Rep. Williams, now an independent.

Republican leaders, he contended, are "mad at Kent Williams because he's speaker of the House -- that's exactly what it is, political payback."

Rep. Turner said, "The fish hatchery is in our budget, but most everything in our budget is negotiable at this time."

But he said House Democrats and some House Republicans are "totally locked down" on issues such as maintaining funding for the Career Ladder pay supplement program for teachers, grants for farmers and protecting the Governor's Office of Children's Care Coordination.

Sen. Ramsey, whose position carries the title of lieutenant governor, also acknowledged other issues remain in budget discussions, including $5 million in funding for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and several other projects the GOP does not wish to fund.

He said GOP senators still are willing to discuss issues such as providing some type of financial benefit for state employees and teachers.

The speaker also maintained that his budget stances have nothing to do with his running for governor, although he said at one point, "this is a symbol of running things the Tennessee way and not the Washington way."

That is a campaign slogan.

Rep. Williams has defended the fish hatchery, which would be funded if Congress appropriates an additional $341 million in Medicaid matching funds for Tennessee.

He says the project has been planned for years and will generate 22 jobs and generate as many as 80,000 visitors to Carter County, where he lives.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, of College Grove, said, "There's really not (a revenge motive). I mean, my goodness, we reflect the views of the people of Tennessee. Nine in 10 would say, 'Glen, do not build a $16 million fish hatchery when folks need flood relief.' ... It's just a waste of money -- $16 million for 22 jobs. It just doesn't make sense."

Meanwhile, Thursday night, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee pressed ahead with passing their version of the budget.

They rejected a proposal to restore funding to continue the Office of Children's Care Coordination beyond December. The office combats infant mortality, and Bob Duncan, director of the office, warned children could die if the operation is allowed to shut down.

Rep. Turner said Democrats are planning for the legislation session to continue for at least two more weeks. Many leaders had hoped to adjourn by mid-May. Lawmakers are paid $185 a day in expenses for each day they are in session.

The new budget year begins July 1.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
Gideon_Planish said...

Rivals spar over Carter fish hatchery plan By John Thompson Elizabethton Bureau Chief

ELIZABETHTON — Some of the first punches were traded in Round 3 of the the political battle between Speaker of the House Kent Williams and his challenger, former State Rep. Jerome Cochran.

The rematch is not official unless Cochran defeats Priscilla G. Steele in the Aug. 5 Republican Primary, but Cochran began the attack shortly after midnight Monday with a news release in which he announced he was opposed to funding $16 million in next year’s budget for a new Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fish hatchery at the end of Cherokee Park Drive.

“I believe the fish hatchery is a wonderful project but we simply cannot afford it at this time. Supporting this project is similar to a family that can’t afford its mortgage going out and buying a new car,” Cochran said in his release.

“During a difficult budget year when the state legislature has cut salaries for teachers and state employees, the fish hatchery should not be a top priority,” Cochran said in his release.

Williams responded strongly when he learned of Cochran’s statement.

“Jerome Cochran has no idea of what is in the budget, he hasn’t been in Nashville in four years and he really didn’t know the budget when he was here,” Williams said, adding that Cochran’s statements about cuts in teacher pay were not true.

Cochran responded to Williams by saying it demonstrated “an arrogance of power.” He said “you don’t have to be in Nashville to see what tax increases are doing to families and small businesses.”

“The money for the fish hatchery is not coming from state funds,” Williams said. “It looks like we are going to get $341 million in federal stimulus money. That is money that has to be spent. You can’t put it in a rainy day fund, it is going to be spent. It is going to be spent all over the state, why not spend a little of it in Carter County?” Williams said.

Cochran said he had not been aware that the $16 million for the project was coming from federal money, but he said with a trillion-dollar deficit, he believed spending federal borrowed funds was even more of a bad idea.

“That doesn’t change things, it is still more wasteful spending, whether it is coming from D.C. or from Nashville, it is still irresponsible,” Cochran said.

Williams said there was noting irresponsible about the fish hatchery. It is a project the TWRA has been working on for nearly a decade and he said it should have been accomplished when Cochran was representing the district.

“He says this is not the time to build it, but it has never been the right time for the past 100 years in Nashville for any project for Carter County or Johnson County or Unicoi County or Washington County,” Williams said.

Williams said he was elected to get things done for his district and he is doing that.

May 28, 2010 at 10:05 p.m.
Gideon_Planish said...

In 2009, both TNGA Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and TNGA House Rep. Jason Mumpower approved spending $800,000 in actual state tax dollars on the pre-planning "conceptual design expenditure" for the proposed TWRA Elizabethton cold-water trout hatchery:

Watchdog group criticizes plan for fish hatchery in Elizabethton By Hank Hayes

Published July 22nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

ELIZABETHTON — Taxpayer money budgeted for an initial phase of a $15 million fish hatchery here is being hailed as a good community investment or criticized as a bad expense in a time when state government positions are being cut.

The project is taking shape in the House district of the person hailing it, Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams.

Criticism for the project is coming from Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) President Drew Johnson, who heads up the Nashville-based government watchdog organization.

In the $29.3 billion state budget recently passed by Tennessee lawmakers, Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration filed a budget amendment that included $800,000 in non-recurring funds for pre-planning the fish hatchery.

Williams, a self-proclaimed “Carter County Republican” and a member of the Elizabethton-Carter County Hunting and Fishing Club, did not respond to a voice message left on his cell phone for this story.

Instead, he responded with an e-mail sent by Scotty Campbell, his legislative assistant.

In that e-mail, Williams noted the State Building Commission approved spending Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) funds to complete a conceptual design of the fish hatchery.

“Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, along with the state constitutional officers, and the commissioner of finance and administration are on the Building Commission with me and approved the conceptual design expenditure,” Williams said. “Members from Northeast Tennessee were supportive of the project including Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, (Republican House) Majority Leader (Jason) Mumpower and (state) Senator Rusty Crowe (who represents Carter County.) ... This helps tourism in our state by attracting fisherman from all over the country as well as benefiting our local sportsmen. This is a major gain for Northeast Tennessee as this hatchery will provide fish for TWRA use throughout the region. ... This hatchery is another way to stimulate economic growth by bringing people into Carter County and the entire Tri-Cities region.

“The current hatchery infrastructure in our state is 30 plus years old. We can’t curl up in a ball when revenue falls, we have to look toward and build toward the future.”

May 28, 2010 at 10:10 p.m.
Gideon_Planish said...

The proposed TWRA Elizabethton cold-water trout hatchery will be constructed on reclaimed, inspected, and approved brownfield land within Carter County:


"As the owner of a lifetime sportsman license, I am very concerned that we preserve Tennessee’s beautiful wildlife areas for future hunters and fishermen. Conservation of the land is necessary so it can be enjoyed by the next generation of those who love the outdoors.

We must be good stewards of the land. That is why I sponsored Tennessee’s first brownfields law to promote redevelopment and reuse of contaminated industrial and commercial facilities. The redevelopment of these sites has become of major importance to Tennessee cities because it raises the property value of brownfield sites and surrounding properties, creating an incentive to invest in areas which were formerly avoided." - Ron Ramsey.

May 28, 2010 at 10:16 p.m.
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