Tennessee Republican ax takes out UTC library

Tennessee Republican ax takes out UTC library

June 11th, 2009 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE - Senate Republicans swung their own ax at the state budget Wednesday, pushing through the Senate Budget Subcommittee an amendment that increases cuts proposed by Gov. Phil Bredesen by at least $100 million in the fiscal year 2009-10 budget that starts July 1.

Republicans' proposed reductions range from canceling the planned new UTC library in Chattanooga, converting $22 million in recurring pre-kindergarten program funds to one-time funding and slashing $6.5 million in day care for families who are "at risk" of becoming eligible for welfare.

One section contains $67 million in "contingency" cuts including $6.4 million in diabetes grants. Funding for contingency projects would be restored depending on the state meeting its revised May revenue figures for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the reason for the GOP amendment is to have a "budget that borrows less and provide one that has a little more protection in the Rainy Day Fund."

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, called the GOP amendment a "stunning development."

"I want to make clear here," warned Sen. Kyle, "if we don't fund those higher education buildings this year, they will never be built - at least in my tenure."

The amended appropriations bill is expected to be heard in the full Senate Finance Committee today. While Republicans can pass the bill in the Senate, where they have a 19-14 majority, Democrats in the House, which is evenly divided, vowed to attack the changes.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, a Finance Committee member, later took issue with Sen. Kyle's assertion that the UTC library never would be built. He said a provision in the amendment stands a good chance of restoring funding for the UTC library and other projects.

The provision says the projects could be restored if state fiscal stabilization funds from the federal stimulus package are available or if other federal reimbursement match increases free up state dollars.

"I did everything I could for the university," Sen. Watson said, calling the contingency provision "very realistic."

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, vowed earlier in the day to fight elimination of library funding.

Sen. Watson said a number of Republican senators, who have been meeting outside public view on budget issues, "are unwilling to do bonding or increase state debt" and thought the provision was a "very reasonable way of funding those projects."

The governor in his proposed 2009-10 budget proposed bonding out the projects, including the $47.5 million UTC library. By canceling the projects, Senate Republicans figure to save $15.36 million in annual debt service.

Other proposed cuts include:

* $62 million in federal stimulus for a solar power "farm" in West Tennessee and a solar power research center in Knoxville.

* $16 million for buying land for a West Tennessee industrial megasite.

* $2.8 million for the state health department for HIV/AIDS.

Sen. Kyle charged Senate Republicans "erred on what is important for the future of our state and what is not."

But Sen. Watson said with state revenues continuing to plummet, he and colleagues believe additional steps that Gov. Bredesen sought to defer until later in fiscal year 2010 or in fiscal year 2010-2011 must be taken now.

"Revenues continue to fall, and we're trying to address that," he said.

In other action, Republican senators said they intend to strip out several tax increases in the administration's proposed "technical corrections" bill. One provision is a proposed user tax on cable boxes, estimated to bring in $2 million. Another provision would raise $6 million through increasing taxes on telephones used by businesses.

Yet another provision Republicans want to kill is a plan to make general contractors responsible for gross receipts taxes owed by their subcontractors. That is part of the administration's proposal for the state to take over the business collections from county clerks, figuring the state can collect an additional $21 million for the state and $25 million for the counties.