House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) on Friday stripped an amendment to the budget bill, HB 511, that would have given $3.12 million to veterans, opting instead for a pork project in Williamson County.
On Thursday during House debate on the budget, Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City) introduced an amendment that redirected $3.12 million from the Historical Commission for the demolition and construction of a new Carter House Visitors Center in Franklin to four Tennessee chapters of Honor Flight and Honor Air programs across the state.
These non-profit organizations fly aging veterans to Washington, D.C. in order for them to pay their final respects the memorials dedicated to their sacrifice and to their fellow soldiers who died in battle. Top priority is given to the senior veterans, World War II veterans, survivors, people who have given their all. Many of these veterans could be disabled, handicapped, or even terminally ill.
Sargent initially tried to kill the amendment by making the motion to “lay on the table,” but the motion failed by a vote of 35 ayes, 52 nays.
Despite the disagreement throughout much of the day, this amendment passed with bipartisan support on Thursday with a vote of 49 ayes and 36 nays, only to be stripped the next day by Sargent. Matlock’s amendment would not have increased the size of the budget, merely moved funds from one line item to another.
“I didn’t realize that the Historical Commission was in the visitor center business,” said Finance Subcommittee Chairman Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) during debate. On the Tennessee Historical Commission’s website, there is no mention of the construction of new buildings as part of their mission or objectives.
House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R-Franklin) argued against the amendment, invoking David Crockett’s name saying that some 125 years ago “he stood on the halls of Congress. Congress was debating pensions for the veterans. David Crockett said this is a job for the citizens of the country to take care of our veterans on areas like this, the honor flight.” Casada further explained his position voting against the amendment,
It is not the role to take tax monies from those who are barely feeding their family and getting by. And, so I would submit, this is a good organization, it’s a good idea. But we as volunteers, we as Tennesseans should take it out of our personal means to make sure these gentleman get to fly back to Washington, D.C.
This money, this $3.2 million is going to what’s called the Carter House in Franklin. It is a tourist destination that people come to from all over the nation. It generates a lot of jobs for middle Tennessee. This is one of those things that it increases tourism, it increases the economy, it creates jobs and it creates wealth.
I would submit something that’s noble but should be handled by the volunteers and the individuals of the state to send our veterans to Washington.
It is our job to spend money to help grow the economy, create jobs and create wealth.
According to the state’s website on the Carter House State Historic Site, “the house and grounds are managed and operated for the State by the Battle of Franklin Trust.” The Battle of Franklin Trust website shows that it charges for tours at $18 per adult and $8 for children aged 6 to 15 and it’s “support” page shows six additional ways to give in addition to the gift store.
Both Chairman Sargent and Leader Casada live in Williamson County.