NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's upcoming state budget is one signature by the governor away from becoming law, including a one-week sales tax holiday on restaurants, bars and groceries, an infusion of cash into capital maintenance and improvements, and a big paydown into the state's retirement system.
The Republican-dominated Legislature passed the budget Thursday, touting it as a conservative investment during a time of much-better-than-expected revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats criticized the proposal over, among other things, funding for K-12 schools and teachers' salaries, saying the state could do more given what's achievable when the state is flush with cash.
“In a year where we've got a $1 billion recurring surplus that could be invested in education, we're basically keeping up with inflation,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat.
Gov. Bill Lee can reduce or veto line items, but lawmakers can override with majority votes. The plan lawmakers passed scaled back a few of the Republican's key priorities, but he had kind words for what passed and gave no indication that he's considering any changes.
“I’m proud that this budget delivers on some of our top promises to Tennesseans and invests in external organizations meeting the needs of our local communities,” Lee said in a statement.
Here is a look at some notable spending items in the plan for the budget year that starts July 1.
— $931 million for capital maintenance and improvements
— $250 million one-time payment into the state's legacy pension plan
— $250 million into a new mental health trust fund for K-12 students that will fund projects off of investment returns
— $145 million for air and rail transportation infrastructure
— $120.1 million for a 4% total increase to the fund that allows for pay raises for teachers and other school worker positions
— $100 million in local government grants for various items, ranging from IT hardware upgrades to road projects and capital maintenance, a reduction of $100 million from what the governor requested
— $100 million for broadband expansion grants, a reduction of $100 million from what the governor requested
— $100 million deposit into the state's Rainy Day Fund, a $50 million increase from what the governor requested
— $79.4 million to add faculty, equipment and building renovations at community and technical colleges in an effort to eliminate a waitlist that is now 11,400 people
— $50 million for a one-week sales tax holiday on restaurants, bars and groceries, a $50 million reduction from what the governor requested
— $38.9 million to increase the pay of Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities providers to $12.50 an hour
— $24.8 million for increased incarceration under a bill still under consideration that would require people to serve 100% of their sentences with no reduction in jail time for a variety of offenses, from domestic assault to public indecency.
— $13.5 million toward a proposed $65 million, 7,000-capacity stadium in Knoxville, which would host minor league baseball and other sports and events
— $6.6 million for a pilot program to extend postpartum coverage for women on the state’s Medicaid program from 60 days to 12 months
— $5.5 million for a graduate medical education program with a focus on getting more doctors into rural areas
— $4.2 million to out-of-state nonprofits, including $1.2 million for the Tim Tebow Foundation and $3 million for the Human Coalition, an anti-abortion group
— $2 million to fund a bill that would create a new statewide three-judge court to hear constitutional challenges of state laws and policies, after Republicans complained that the cases currently end up in front of judges elected in Nashville, the seat of government with a more liberal electorate; the proposal has not passed yet
— $459,000 to exempt gun safes and other gun safety items from sales tax for one year