NASHVILLE - A $16.9 million contingency spending provision to construct a fish hatchery in House Speaker Kent Williams' district is drawing fire from legislative Republicans.
"This idea we're going to build a fish hatchery in Carter County has got a lot of people outraged, quite frankly," said House Assistant Republican Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.
The provision was included by the Bredesen administration and is dependent on congressional approval of enhanced federal matching rates for Medicaid. If approved, it would generate $341 million in one-time money for Tennessee, which the Democratic administration has proposed spending on a variety of projects, including the Carter County fish hatchery.
Last week, Republicans' unhappiness over the provision played out in a tense confrontation between Rep. Williams, who has argued the state should dip further into reserves to deal with state revenue problems, and Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City.
"A fish hatchery in Carter County doesn't qualify for poor pitiful people," Rep. Matlock told the speaker as a reporter stood by. "Quote me on that, by the way. That's ridiculous. You gave us (Republican Caucus) a speech upstairs - how the government's got to be involved, the government's got to do this. Everybody needed government. And that's what you put into a budget that we don't have money for."
In response to further questions, Rep. Williams noted the federally funded project would produce about 22 jobs at the hatchery and draw thousands of tourists to his county annually.
"Why don't you move in to my poor county and see what we've gotten over the last 150 years," the speaker said. "We've gotten nothing. We're not Nashville. We're not Knoxville. ... We're not Lenoir City."
A lifelong Republican who was bounced out of the state Republican Party after he allowed Democrats to elect him speaker, Rep. Williams, of Elizabethton, faces opposition from former Rep. Jerome Cochrane, R-Elizabethton, who hopes to unseat him.
In a statement today on the blogsite PostPolitics, Mr. Cochrane said, "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."