NASHVILLE, Tennessee — After nearly a six and a half hour day, the Tennessee House of Representatives appears to be no closer to having a finalized budget for fiscal year 2017-18 when it goes back into session Friday at 9 a.m., as the first bill to approve the budget appropriations did not make it to a vote on Thursday.
As the first legislative year of the 110th General Assembly draws to a close, the last of the bills are being heard and the budget for fiscal year 2017-18 needs to be approved. The budget passed the House Finance Ways & Means Subcommittee and full Committee on Wednesday and was placed on the calendar for the House floor session to convene at 9 a.m. Thursday.
After dozens of resolutions and bills were passed, but prior to the discussion of the four bills that make Governor Haslam’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, at 10:34 a.m., Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) requested a recess until 11:30 for a caucus meeting. While a handful of members responded with their own comments, the real purpose of the Republican caucus meeting was to allow “leadership” to “encourage” support of the budget. Leadership was particularly critical of some Republicans meeting with Democrats, and vehemently denied that Governor Haslam had made a deal with Democratic Caucus Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley).
No explanation was offered by Republican leadership as to why 23 of the 25 Democrats voted for the IMPROVE Act. The majority of arguments by Democrats throughout the committee process were adamantly opposed to the tax breaks for the wealthy and inadequate cuts to the food tax that would help the poor, working poor and elderly.
Simultaneously, in a separate room, the Democratic caucus also met.
The House floor session was not actually called back to order until 12:09 p.m.
Once back in session, Finance, Way & Means Chairman and sponsor of the bill Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) introduced the first of four budget-related bills, the budget appropriations bill HB 511. Before the actual bill could be voted on, 21 amendments had to be discussed and voted on or otherwise dispensed with.
When two amendments that were opposed by leadership passed, another recess was called from 1:05 pm to 2:27 pm, during which there was much discussion amongst members on the floor.
As the day progressed, several members had been excused, but a quorum was maintained.
Once back in session, the remaining amendments, if not withdrawn, were adopted through a combination of roll call and voice vote.
The K-12 Block Grant Act amendment number 7 sponsored by Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), allocating $150 million to a trust fund from which interest would be drawn and allocated to all Tennessee school districts, after several minutes of explanation passed by a vote of 40 to 39.
After the vote, Sargent said he would be calm while defending himself, “I’ve been accused by some people of cutting a deal with the Democrats. I want you to know I did not make a deal with the Democrats. I would not make a deal that I have no authority to make. Look at the last vote who made the deal with the Democrats. Now we have it on recorded record.”
Amendment 17 by Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) sought to compensate citizens for the over collection of taxes by sending money back to school systems to help pay down debt for school projects. In lieu of a check to each citizen, which would be difficult to execute, this allocation could help prevent local property tax increases. The amendment was adopted via voice vote.
When it came to vote on HB 511, as amended through the floor session, Rep. Sargent said he could not vote for it, because “It’s so far out of balance. I will not break the constitution. This is not a constitutional budget. It’s not balanced at all.”
When Rep. Williams could not reach a resolution with the assistance of legal and the Comptroller, Justin Wilson, the House recessed until Friday at 9 a.m.