NASHVILLE — With dozens of cosponsors signed onto her bill to create a two-month sales tax holiday on grocery food sales, Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, is hopeful the bill will move through a key House subcommittee Wednesday despite reservations by Republican Gov. Bill Lee's administration.
"I have 50-some signatures on the bill," Hazlewood said Monday.
As of Monday afternoon, Hazlewood, who is vice chairwoman of the full Finance Committee, had 57 of the House's 99 members as cosponsors on the measure, which seeks to cut the state's 4% levy on food sales to zero this July and August. It would cost the state about $100 million.
Among cosponsors are 13 of the 14 members who sit on the House Subcommittee on Finance where the bill will be discussed Wednesday. That includes the chairman of the full Finance Committee and the chairman of the subcommittee. Other cosponsors include Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, and Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga.
With the state awash in $1 billion in combined surpluses from last year's budget as well as being over on collections in the current fiscal year, Hazlewood and a number of lawmakers are looking for ways to return it to taxpayers.
Her answer is the sales tax on food, with the lawmaker saying it would have the most impact because most Tennesseans pay it. Her other bill cosponsors include Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville.
But Lee, who last week submitted his proposed $40.8 billion fiscal year 2020-20201 spending plan, has his own ideas. He's recommending lawmakers slash the $400-per-person annual professional privilege tax on doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers and lobbyists by half. It would reduce revenues by $40 million.
Another Lee proposal creates two one-time infrastructure funds for cities and counties totaling $50 million each.
Amid talk last week that the governor had "flagged" Hazlewood's bill, Gillum Ferguson, the governor's spokesman, shied away from saying whether the governor had flagged the measure.
"The governor is always open to finding prudent ways to cutting taxes, and his FY2021 budget proposal does cut the professional privilege tax in half and returns $100 million to county and municipal governments," Ferguson added.
He added "we believe our plan is the most efficient and accountable way to put more money in the pockets of hardworking Tennesseans and doesn't present situations that could disrupt state services, jeopardize the state's bond ratings, or throw the budget out of balance."
The Senate companion bill is being sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson.
"I'll let her work that through the House first," Watson said. "And then if she's able to move that through the House, I'll take it up in the Senate and we'll have a conversation there."
Watson noted there are several different versions of sales-tax cut measures that have been introduced this year.
"What we're able to do at this point will be determined by the discussion that really happens over the next couple of weeks as we kind of start drilling into the governor's proposed budget," he noted.
Watson has introduced his own bill targeting recurring reductions in corporate taxes.
As for Lee's resistance to lawmakers going further than his own proposals on tax holidays or cuts, Watson chuckled, "Have you ever met a governor who's not happy with what they've proposed in the budget? ... So I get that. Obviously the administration has a responsibility to weigh in on how they view issues."
"I think we want them to be a part of the conversation, that's the balance," the chairman said. "But at the end of the day I think the Legislature has the ability to amend and pass the legislation as it thinks appropriate. There will be a healthy discussion, I'm sure, about every piece of legislation that the administration sees differently. But I'm not worried about that."
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.