Greetings! The 106th General Assembly was presented with the proposed 2010-2011 state budget this week, as the Governor addressed a joint convention on Monday night. Overall, the proposal includes a 5 to 6 percent decrease in the budget total, with roughly $200 million being used from both the Rainy Day Fund and the TennCare reserve fund.
In the coming weeks as budget hearings begin in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, I will be going over this 612 page “budget book” the same way I did for last year’s budget line by line with my highlighter. I remain committed to fully discussing the budget over the coming weeks as I learn more about the details.
The Department of Safety had originally prepared to cut state troopers in 13 rural counties, but the proposed budget includes a driver’s license renewal fee increase intended to avoid those layoffs and pay for new radio equipment for the state troopers. Currently, it costs $19.50 every five years to renew a Tennessee driver’s license. The proposal increases that fee to $46 every eight years, which state officials say will make the process more efficient. The driver’s license renewal fee has not been increased since 1988.
The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System was not on the chopping block, as the system will receive an infusion of $82 million to shore up the fund. K-12 also escaped major cuts, with the proposal protecting BEP funding and even includes $47 million in growth. K-12 capital projects were cut, as were many capital projects across the state. However, money will not leave the classrooms in the budget as proposed.
In addition, the state will mostly avoid mass layoffs and the budget as proposed includes a one-time bonus of 3 percent for state employees. The Governor did outline a plan to eliminate 456 unfilled positions in order to save money. I have some concerns over some of the items in the budget and I will continue to thoroughly look through each of these expenditures.
I have always believed that our state government should be run like a family budget – live within your means. Because our revenue intake continues to drop we must be careful not to spend more than we take in and bust the Copeland Cap. The Governor addressed this Monday night; however, actions do speak louder than words. Tennesseans are tightening their belt and so must the state government. With the state in its 20th straight month of revenue decline—a record—some reductions are inevitable. They include:
$200 million in recurring reductions in TennCare;
$64 million reduction in higher education;
$20 million recurring reductions in K-12 capital projects; and
$16 million in recurring Child Services
Technical Corrections Bill
The technical corrections bill originates in the Department of Revenue and proposes revenue increases through specific changes to the Tennessee Code. This year, the legislation includes a tax on real estate investment trusts, and an increase in the cable tax, totaling $49.8 million among a few other smaller proposals.
The first $15 of cable TV service is currently taxed at 8.25 percent, with the rest being exempt. On the other hand, satellite TV is taxed at 8.25 percent, but without the $15 exemption. The technical corrections bill proposes to tax an entire cable TV bill at 8.25 percent, bringing it in line with satellite service. In addition, cable providers will be charged a new tax on equipment such as cable boxes. Members have expressed concern that this equipment tax will be passed on to the consumer.
Secret Ballot Protection Act dies in subcommittee
The “Secret Ballot Protection Act” appeared in the Employee Affairs Subcommittee this week. The proposal defines the denial of secret-ballot elections as an unfair labor practice. It also establishes penalties (class C misdemeanor) and civil remedies for violation.
The bill is a remedy for “card check,” which has been proposed in Congress. Card check would require unionization ballots to be public, so that unions could see if a worker voted for or against unionization. Currently, the vote on whether to unionize is a secret ballot, which protects workers from undue harassment by union leaders. The Secret Ballot Protection Act would declare that those votes remain private in order to protect workers.
The sponsor argued that voting is sacred whether it is in the voting booth or the workplace, and that the bill is consistent with the state’s Constitution in guaranteeing ballot secrecy. Ultimately, however, the bill failed along party lines.
House to vote next week on veto-override of menu-labeling measure
A bill that would have barred some local entities from requiring nutritional labeling on menus passed both the House and Senate last year, but was then vetoed by the Governor. The legislation was filed as several states, municipalities and cities began considering laws that mandated chain restaurants put calories and other nutritional information on menus.
Last year, many of us were concerned that mandating chain restaurants to put certain nutritional information on menus places an unnecessary burden on restaurant owners in an already struggling economy and creates an atmosphere that is unfriendly to business owners. We also said that often, the laws are selective, targeting only large restaurant chains. In addition, if every city enacted something different, large or even medium sized companies would have difficulty in following the law properly.
The legislation was amended to prohibit non-elected bodies from making the decision to require nutritional information on menus. It also specifies that if the federal government passes legislation requiring menu labeling and the federal action specifically authorizes state departments to enforce such action, then the Tennessee Department of Health will be the department that is primarily responsible for the implementation and supervision of the new requirements. The more we allow government to rule over our day to day life, in instances such as this, our individual freedom becomes not only threatened but non-existent.
The Senate has already voted on the veto override, with a vote of 24- to 7. The House is expected to take up the veto override next week.
The Week Ahead…
Next week I will be moving full steam ahead with two of my bills: HB 3628 concerning workman’s compensation and HB 3627 which deals with rural roads and bridges. House Bill 3627 will be discussed in the Rural Roads a sub- committee of Transportation. I will be working hard with the Caucus on both sides of the aisle to ensure this bill pulls through intact. Being a staunch supporter of rural Tennessee when it comes to our bridges and roads I consider the infrastructure to be vital to our district in not only creating jobs but retaining them as well. I am a strong voice for rural Tennessee which comprises most of our state. Ensuring that we receive equal recognition from our local government that our larger cities obtain effortlessly is one of my main goals. It is an honor to serve you, the 40th district.