GOP plan cuts $16.1 million fish hatchery in House speaker's district

GOP plan cuts $16.1 million fish hatchery in House speaker's district

May 20th, 2010 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE -- Republican legislative leaders want to strip $25.5 million in one-time contingency funding for seven projects from the state budget, according to a schedule outlining Senate Republicans' ideas.

The list includes a $16.1 million fish hatchery that Gov. Phil Bredesen has proposed to build in the home district of House Speaker Kent Williams, an Elizabethton independent.

Other cuts outlined in the schedule include a $5 million appropriation for the U.S. Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and $4 million for demolition work at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

Gov. Bredesen's proposal, adopted by House Democratic leaders, states the projects would be funded only if Congress approves a six-month extension of boosted federal matching funds for state Medicaid programs.

Under the stimulus-related proposal, Tennessee would see $341 million in one-time additional funds for its TennCare program. That would free up state money to be plowed into other areas.

House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower, R-Kingsport, acknowledged that one of the schedules Republicans have discussed "eliminates most of what you might consider earmarked funding, and I think that most people are against earmarked funding in a year like this."

He said Republicans are zeroing in on earmarks that fund projects of a localized nature but are not as concerned with regional or statewide projects.

A copy of the schedule, obtained by a reporter, shows the programs being eliminated.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of College Grove later said "it doesn't make sense to me personally to lay off 850 state employees and build a $16 million fish hatchery. That just doesn't seem logical to me."

State employees' positions are paid for with recurring funds. The funds for the fish hatchery and other projects are from one-time money.

Rep. Williams had no immediate comment about the GOP cuts Wednesday but has defended the hatchery as a project that would generate jobs in his district and attract tourism dollars. He said Tuesday that Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials have told him a similar project in Texas generates 80,000 visitors annually.

"Why shouldn't East Tennessee get something?" he said, noting Senate Republicans plan to use $31.9 million if the stimulus funds are approved to help develop a proposed West Tennessee industrial "megasite" to attract economic development.

Lawmakers are considering a $28 billion budget "and we can't get $16 million for Upper East Tennessee?" Rep. Williams asked. "And we've been working on this project for a decade. It's going to be a tremendous asset for a small community. It's going to create tourism."

Deputy Gov. John Morgan said the boost in federal Medicaid matching dollars, which could be approved by the U.S. House on Friday, is funds that "have to be spent" within a relatively short period of time. "They can't be reserved. They (Republicans) may think that they can be."


Federal stimulus-funded projects that would be cut under a state GOP budget plan:

* $16.1 million fish hatchery for Carter County

* $5 million for U.S. Civil Rights Museum

* $4 million for demolition of building at University of Tennessee Health Science Center

* $175,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

* $29,000 for Secret Safe Place, a program that educates women about a state "safe haven" program that allows mothers to leave their newborns at designated places without fear of prosecution

* $80,000 for Crumley House, a brain injury rehabilitation center


Other federal stimulus-funded projects that House and Senate plans would fund include:

* $100 million for community colleges to expand student capacity

* $31.9 million to make ready a West Tennessee industrial development "megasite"

* $51 million to provide incentives for two companies considering locating in Tennessee

Sources: House budget schedules this week

The administration believes the projects outlined "are appropriate or we wouldn't have recommended them," Mr. Morgan said.

House Democrats have accepted the projects in their own schedule, dated Tuesday.

"I didn't know," House Finance Committee Chairman Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said. "That's (the hatchery) an economic development project that's been studied and provides jobs and increases tourism in the whole of East Tennessee as I understand it."

He said, "I think that's a regional project."

As for the elimination of the $5 million for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Chairman Fitzhugh said, "National Civil Rights Museum, I think, speaks for itself. I don't think it's a local project. It's a National Civil Rights Museum."

Rep. Williams has been highly critical during the budget process of Senate Republicans and their speaker, Ron Ramsey, who is running for governor.

Meanwhile, many if not most House Republicans have been angry with Rep. Williams, a lifelong Republican who joined with Democrats last year to elect himself speaker over Mr. Mumpower.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Assistant Director Nat Johnson said the State Building Commission last year approved an option on 22 acres at a brownfield site in Carter County for the hatchery. Lawmakers last year approved $800,000 in planning funds.

He said the project would "include an aquatic education center. We see (it as) a real drawing point for the area ... It should produce a real tourism boom up there."

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Lawmakers point fingers on budget impasse

Article: Senate Democratic leader proposes budget compromise

Article: Speaker: Political games holding up state budget